Divinely Appointed Separateness

Divinely Appointed Separateness

I myself did not know him but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to his people Israel.  John 1:31

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Psalm 25:10

“I myself did not know him…”  They were relatives.  Yet they didn’t know one another.  They did not collude or discuss their respective callings.  They didn’t meet at family gatherings, festivals or weddings.  God kept them apart.  Elizabeth and Mary, their mothers, apparently cooperated with God in his plan to keep the two boys separated from each other, though the two women were not only cousins but they shared secrets, and they could have naturally thought their remarkable sons should meet.

This fact, of John, a cousin of Jesus, not knowing him, intrigues me.  It amazes me that the mothers, members of a strongly family oriented culture, didn’t scheme to get their  boys, cousins, together.  (Or if they did, it isn’t recorded and their scheming failed.)  Family was super important in that culture, and rightly so.  God created and ordained family.  And all he does is good.  Family togetherness, family unity, family ties are a  blessing from our Father and Creator.  This was again made so evident to me at a recent family gathering.  Three of our five children and their families congregated in one home for a few happy days.  For the first time in two years, all the cousins (13 of them) were together.  It was a last-minute event as travelers and schedules converged, intersecting at this one point for a brief time.  God plans our in-person events.  No one but he is able to bring six family units, stretched across the globe, to meet in a single location at any point in time!  God loves families and delights in delighting us in this way.  Yet, it pleased him to disrupt this natural fellowship in the case of John and Jesus, only allowing them to meet towards the end of their lives.  It often pleases him to disrupt familial fellowship in our cases as well.

Family members are often separated from one another.  This separation can be geographical.  Or there can be separation due to diverging world-views.  Thoughtlessness, forgetfulness, and simply neglect can gradually separate loved ones from one another.  Our various professions and callings can necessitate a distance between us.  Some of us have very little control over the times and places of a family gathering.  Presently, a pandemic prevents some of the usual family meet-ups.  We simply can’t travel from one place to another.  Parents are separated from children, siblings from one another, and cousins grow up not knowing each other.

Is it painful and lonely to be prevented from sharing life with family, to miss out on reunions, to not know what it’s like to have a son just drop in on his way home from work?  Do you feel sad when a son or daughter embarks upon a course that leaves you in the dust, alienated from the sphere in which they live?  I wonder if Mary, if Elizabeth, were similarly puzzled.  Yet they pondered God’s master plan as it had been revealed to them, and yielded their natural inclinations to Him.

John lived in isolation, in the wilderness.  He didn’t go to the reunion.  He wasn’t at the birthday party.  He didn’t attend Jesus’ bar mitzvah.  He also wasn’t sitting in the wilderness messaging his mother or his siblings, or his cousins.  No, the remarkable fact is that God, the Designer of family, intentionally orchestrated his separation.  He actually intended that John not know his cousin until they met at the river that day.  Is God a malicious kill-joy?  On the contrary, he is good and he has a good purpose.  “I myself did not know him but for this purpose I came baptizing with water…”

He not only has a purpose, but a marvelous purpose — that Christ might be revealed to his people Israel.  Matthew Henry points out “There was no correspondence, no interview between them, that the matter might appear to be wholly carried on by the direction and disposal of Heaven, and not by any design or concert of the persons themselves.”  Their separation gave credibility to the gospel message and person of Christ.  What foresight is God’s!

So, can we not encourage our hearts that all His paths, including His path of separations from loved ones, are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those of us who keep his covenant and his testimonies?  Can we not trust God, can we not wait on him, knowing by faith that someday his dark purposes will be illuminated?  We will see his steadfast love and faithfulness in the full light of day.  We will understand how our painful separations served his great purpose to bring his people to himself and save them from their sins; to restore relationship with himself; to destroy the wall of enmity between the holy God and his chosen people; to bring them close to him; to give them life and to “do life” together with Him in the present and — forever.  May our present and temporal separations serve to draw others close to Jesus.

Oh my Father, use our separations to work in us your good pleasure and purpose for our sakes, for the sake of your Son, and for the sake of the world you love.  Amen

That Amazing Woman

That Amazing Woman

My reading schedule landed me in Proverbs 31 this week.  This chapter is always in season, so I meditated on it once more.

Proverbs 31

An excellent wife who can find…

the heart of her husband trusts in her…

a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

A good wife is “industrious to recommend herself to her husband’s esteem and affection.”  She is a woman of strength; she is firm and steady to virtuous principles without fear, and she is “a woman of spirit, who has the command of her own spirit and knows how to manage other people’s”, Matthew Henry explains.  What a woman!  And yet she harnesses all her ability and yields to her husband’s temperament.  She, being a spirited woman herself, accommodates herself to her husband’s spirit.  She allows his disposition to lead the way in their marriage and home.  I am 43 years into my training to become this wife.  She is who I want to be.  

We were off on another long road trip.  Before Nampula received international flights we drove six round trips (each way was a 2-day journey) every year to the airport in Lilongwe, Malawi.  Half of those journeys were to meet the plane bringing our teenagers home from boarding school for their month of vacation at the end of each school term.  The other half was to return them to the plane.  These joyful reunion journeys (as well as the other less joyful farewell trips) doubled as vacations, since they took all our “vacation time” (24 days/year total on the road).  

I had always thought of learning to quilt.  An industrious and creative missionary friend taught me how to quilt one block at a time, which lent itself to an accessible hobby.  I kept a small bag with needle, thread, tiny scissors and one 12”x12” pieced square, secured with the batting and backing in a small frame. I was now equipped for the activity of waiting.

Waiting.  So anxious was I to get on the road, to hug my returning children and bring them back home, that my preparations were made – – well, let’s just say I got ready according to the dictates of my disposition.  Quick.  The required departure tasks were organized in my head.  I was fairly skilled at multi-tasking.  Ready, I watched the clock, reminding hubby that the hour we had designated for departure was fast approaching.  My husband also prepared for the journey according to the dictates of his temperament and disposition.  One thing at a time.  Thorough.  Long, handwritten check lists.  “Having our ducks in a row” was something I heard frequently as an explanation.  I waited.  I paced.  I inwardly fumed.  The sun rose higher.  I ate the breakfast we had packed “for the road”.  The younger children, still homeschooled, were just as eager to be off and I sent them to the car.  Maybe that would be a gentle reminder that we needed to get moving now.  This turned out to be more of a non-verbal, hollered rebuke and the tension rose.

How many times did we repeat this scenario before I decided I had to change my thinking?  Too many, I fear.  The Holy Spirit, working through the word of God in Proverbs, Ephesians, I Peter and everywhere, was the only Person with power to help me transform my mind.  But what could I DO with myself to make the delay profitable?   Finally, quilting gave meaning to waiting.  Suddenly I looked forward to those long stretches of free time to quilt.  With all my travel tasks finished and nothing to do, I could quilt happily, and silently.   I began to plan to be ready even earlier so that I could relax with my little quilt frame before the call came to board.  I sent the kids to play Lego or kick a ball.  We were contentedly employed until all the duckies were in a row.

I must say that I was more desperate than virtuous.  But desperation did drive me to desire virtue more than my own way.  I began to understand that my man’s secret desire was not to become more like me!  I marveled that this was not an aspiration of his!  Thus, my assumptions had to take an about face.  My Lord took me, and still takes me, in hand and shows me what it means, in particular situations, to harness my ability and yield to my husband’s temperament; to accommodate myself to his spirit and allow his disposition to lead our marriage and home. Peace covers both of us when I do this and our relationship reaps the long-term benefits.  Though we had many road adventures, and a few misadventures, no bad thing that occurred was ever due to any lack of preparation on his part.  In fact, we were safe on the road, and our home safe in our absence, because of my husband’s meticulous, skilled planning.  He was the master of preventive measures.  He anticipated emergencies that would have caught me (and did catch many expats) way off guard. If he were more like me, our pets may have died in our absence, the canopy of our truck (once we got a truck) would have flown off, our suitcases would have been thrown all over as we bounced along roads full of pot holes … and we might not even have made it to the airport in time.  His temperament, disposition and abilities may inconvenience me, but they make me feel safe.   In high risk travel, I’d rather be in his car, and care, than anyone else’s – and all because he is not like me.

“God, I want to honor, love, and fear you.  The holy fear of you is at the core of any woman who is truly praiseworthy.  Make me that woman, for your sake, for my family’s sake, and for the sake of your kingdom.  Amen.”

A Long Sabbath

A Long Sabbath

A meditation that holds hands with chapters 16 & 17 of Jeremiah, Psalm 49 and I Corinthians 15

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength … blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord… he does not fear …” and “… do not do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers.  Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.”  Jeremiah 17:21-23

It was first quarter, freshman year of college.  And was I ever busy!  There were innumerable opportunities for new friendships and I was going to be intentional about making a lot of them. My courses excited and challenged me, so I studied hard and was rewarded with good grades.  What’s more, I tried to keep up (in those days it was done through the postal service and the periodic phone call) with friends back home, hundreds of miles away.  I burned the candle at both ends.

After weeks of this lifestyle, I returned to my room one night, plopped down on the bed, blew out a long breath and groaned, “Oh, if only my daddy were here!  He would make me stop this!”  Yes, he would have put his foot down to my uncontrolled coming and going.  A few years previous, after I got my driver’s license, he had chaffed at my many commitments.  Almost every evening I left home for youth group, orchestra, choir, a leadership meeting or some other event.  They were all worthy activities that developed my gifts and nurtured my interests.  But he longed for me to just sit with him one night a week – to just be at home.  Once in a great while he would gently exert his authority and declare calmly, firmly, “No.  You can’t go.  You will stay home tonight.”  Of course I balked, but I also loved him for it.  Now, loosed from his careful vigilance, I needed his wisdom, his “Stop!”

And that’s what the Sabbath is.  It is the “Stop!” of our heavenly Father, commanded for our own benefit.  He who made us knows we need that seventh day of rest.  But it isn’t only for napping.  God has designated that day for us to be with him;  to reflect on him, enjoy him, to worship him. We rest from our own exertions to be productive, to increase our net worth and improve ourselves.  We refrain from pursuits that contribute to our earthly treasure trove, to our material wealth and even our daily bread.  On that day we testify that God is our Creator, Provider and Sustainer, not ourselves.  We honor Him as the supreme giver of life, breath, strength and resources.

But we have chaffed against such “restriction”.  Now, many of us have no work.  No paycheck.  Malls are closed.  There’s no place to rush to.  We thought of ourselves as competent and wise; we have become helpless and foolish.  We could see this as God’s judgment on a sinful world (and that’s one side of the coin), but I’d like us to consider God’s patient enduring in the face of our sin.  Might God, who could wipe us all out entirely, be using this plague to call our attention to his mercy?  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance.  In love, he may be using this scourge to give us no option but to STOP! and observe a sabbath-of-long-duration; to learn to worship Him, to repent of our self-sufficiency and our neglect of the salvation he offers through Christ.  

The Sabbath is a gift of grace that finds its climax in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Jesus completed, or “rested from”, his work of redemption accomplished on the cross; his resurrection confirmed it.  We don’t know when the sun will set on this sabbath, but the Lord God is sovereign over all sun sets.  He prolongs this one and patiently waits to receive the honor, glory, and worship that belongs exclusively to Him.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.  Amen.

Jude 24-25

 

Wonderful Fear

Wonderful Fear

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people …

Luke 1:68

Fear seized them all and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”

Luke 7:16

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet that is to come into the world!”

John 6:14

These are just a few of the Scriptures describing the reaction of a person, or persons, upon the sudden, revealed knowledge that HE is among them.  “This man, this One that we are seeing, hearing and touching is THE One promised!  God has visited us!”

Zechariah’s mute tongue is loosed and bursts forth in praise to God.  He immediately recognizes that the miraculous birth of his own son is secondary to the fact that God has visited his people.  He is living to see the day! He is witnessing God’s coming to the earth!

The great crowd of mourners are there with the grieving widow.  They walk alongside the bier where her son lay, dead, cold.  In a few minutes he would be buried.  Jesus joins them, touches the bier and commands the dead man to get up.  And the man does.  The people gasp in fear and amazement!  “God, himself, is here!”  This is wonderful, and fearful, too!

Jesus feeds over 5,000 people with the contents of one little boy’s lunch box — five bread rolls and two fish.  All the people eat until they are full.  And there are left-overs.  Suddenly, the event sinks in and the crowd is stunned!  Murmurs ripple over the hillside.  With one voice, one opinion, they acknowledge:  this is no fake miracle.  This Jesus is THE Prophet that the early prophets told us would come.  And he has!  Here he IS!  He has come to the world, and he has come to US!

We, too, hear the good news that God is indeed with us today.  By faith, we respond with overwhelming amazement, with a glorious kind of fear that draws us near.  Like these people who saw Jesus in person, we glorify God because he is still with us today. 

Jesus was not the only visitor sent from God.  Just as God sent the Son, Jesus, in an historical setting, to save the elect of all the ages,  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to remain with his people throughout the ages.  

Afternoon reached fingers into evening.  I couldn’t get my breath, again.  My heart raced, again.  My insides quaked as if they were looking for another place to be, but there was no other place.  Again.  “What is this?  What is happening to me?”, I cried.  For weeks this gripping “something” interrupted my routines and dominated my emotions.  I thought I might be truly ill.  “Is something wrong with my lungs?  My heart?  Do I have malaria?  But there’s no fever.  Cancer then?  Could I be dying??”  I thought I would go crazy.  Blood tests for various infections came back negative, so I pressed on.  I thought it odd, though, that in addition to random times throughout the day and night, such an episode almost always descended when it was time for me to lead my weekly ladies’ Bible study.  Having lived many years among people who invite demons into their daily lives, I was familiar with spiritual warfare and evil’s oppression.  I figured there was a battle waging.  Or maybe I was in crisis due to big changes happening at that time in our family.  Maybe it was hormones.  In any case, I put one foot in front of the other and begged God to fight for me.  By his enablement I picked up my Bible and walked out to the grass shelter to join the ladies who waited.  Wouldn’t you know, as soon as I sat down next to them on the ground, my inner quaking stopped.  I could breathe and my heart rate returned to normal.  Every time.  Every week.  Without fail.  My Champion, the Lord Jesus, was fighting for me!  God was indeed with me each Thursday morning at 10:00 just as surely as Jesus Christ visited his people in real time and place 2,000 years ago.   

Eventually I flew to a neighboring country for a time of restful retreat, with long, quiet hours of listening to the Lord.  There, with my Bible and the Comforter, I learned not to be afraid of fear.  I reflect on this season of my life as most precious. My love for and trust in the triune God grew by leaps and bounds.  

It is the same today.  In our time, in our place, God is among us.  Those who believe him know and recognize him.  God promised to send Jesus. He did.  Jesus promised to send the Comforter.  He did.  The Comforter came, and he will never leave us.  As long as we are on earth, He is a permanent resident with us!  Be amazed!  Glorify God!  His power is a fearful thing!  Be overwhelmed!  God is with us!  He will never, ever leave his people alone. 

You are the God who keeps his word.  You sent a Savior, who in turn sent the Holy Spirit.  Though I don’t see you, I love you.  Give me faith to love you more. Help me to not be afraid of the feelings of panic that are beyond my control.  Remind me that you are really and truly with me. 

Take my fluttering heart and soothe it.  Breathe your life into me.  Swaddle all my quaking inward parts in the blanket of your sovereign, loving control.  I wait on you.  I rest in you.  You alone are my God and you have come to me.  Teach me to fear you, and then I won’t be afraid of any other terrors.

Amen.

Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I Peter 1:8, 9

Three Year Bible Reading Plan

How often have you tried a “read through the Bible in a year” schedule to find yourself sailing through passages where you’d really like to spend more time?  Or with all the little ones in your home it’s hard to find that large block of time every day that you need to keep up with the plan?  And then you finish the reading, but have no time to pray, meditate, chew awhile on a small bite.

I created a weekly, rather than daily, Bible reading plan which gives you more flexibility. You read 10-12 chapters per week.  Each week includes passages from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.  You are reading through the OT in three years, the NT each year and through the Proverbs three times.  (You only read half a chapter of Proverbs per week until the third time through.)

I use this schedule alongside my favorite devotional/study tool:  Matthew Henry’s Complete and Unabridged Commentary (Kindle) or hard copy  A solid, biblical theology is the prerequisite to personal application.

I believe you can highlight and print the schedule below.  This is an experiment!  The formatting is a bit messed up – I need a grandchild to move in for awhile and tutor me on how to use my computer programs 🙂  Please let me know if you find this schedule helpful, or if you have suggestions for improvement.

Year anYr/wekYrd Week Old Testament New Testament Psalms Proverbs
YEAR ONE  wk- Old Testament New Testament Psalms Proverbs
                         1 Genesis 1-5 Matt 1-6:18

1

1

2

                6-10          6:19-10:20

8

1

3

            11-15        10:21-14:21       15 and 119:1-8

2

4

             16-20        14:22-18:35

22

2

5

             21-25         19-22

29

3

6

            26-30         23-26:25

36

3

7

             31-35 26:26 – 28

119:9-16 and 43

4

8

             36-40 Romans 1-7

50

4

9

             41-45 Romans 8-11

57

5

10

             46-50 Romans 12-16

64

5

11

Exodus 1-5 I Corinthian 1-7:19

71

6

12

           6-10            7:20-11

78:1-37

6

13

           11-15         12-16                    78:38-72

7

14

          16-20 Mark 1-4

85

7

15

          21-25        5-8:21       

92

8

16

          26-30       8:22-11

99

8

17

             31-35       12-14

106

9

18

             36-40       15-16

113

9

19

Leviticus 1-5 II Cor 1-7 119:17-24 and    120

10

20

           6-10           8-13 119:25-32 and    127

10

21

           11-15 Galatians 119:33-40 and    134

11

22

          16-20 Ephesians

141

11

23

          21-25 Luke 1-6:26

148

12

24

    ” 26-Numbers 3 6:27-9:17

5

12

         25

Numbers 4-8 9:18-12:31 119:41-48 and      12

13

26

          9-13 12:32-17:19

19

13

27

Numbers  14-18 Luke 17:20-20

26

14

28

          19-23 21-24

33

14

                       29 Numbers 24-28 Phil & Colossians

40

15

30

              29-33 I & II Thess. 119:49-56 and      47

15

31

          34-Deut. 2 John  1-4

54

16

32

Deuteronomy 3-7          5-7

61

16

33

              8-12      8-11:29

68

17

34

              13-17       11:30-15

75

17

35

             18-22         16-21 119:57-64 and      82

18

36

             23-27 I Timothy

89:1-25

18

37

             28-32 II Tim & Titus                    89:26-52

19

38

           33- Josh 3 Philem & Heb 1-6

96

19

39

Joshua     4-8 Hebrews 7-11

103

20

40

          9-13 Heb 12- James

110

20

41

         14-18 Acts 1-5

117

21

42

          19-23         6-9

124

21

43

      24 – Judges 4        10-14

131

22

44

Judges     5-9        15-18

138

22

45

             10-14       19-22

145

23

46

             15-19        23-28

2

23

47

    ” 20 – Ruth 3 I & II Peter

9

24

          48

Ruth 4 – I Sam  4 I, II & III John

16

24

49

I Samuel 5-9 Jude- Rev 6 119:65-72 and      23

25

50

             10-14 Rev 7-13

30

25

51

             15-19 Rev 14-22

37

26

52

             20-24

44

26

YEAR TWO wk –
                         1 I Samuel     25-29 Matt 1-6:18

51

27

2

      30 – II Sam 3          6:19-10:20

58

27

3

         4-8        10:21-14:21

65

28

4

          9-13        14:22-18:35

72

28

5

         14-18         19-22

79

29

6

          19-23         23-26:25

86

29

7

      24- I Kings 4 26:26 – 28 119:73-80 and      93

30

8

I Kings 5-9 Romans 1-7 119:81-88 and    100

30

9

             10-14 Romans 8-11

107

31

10

             15-19 Romans 12-16

114

31

11

      20 -II Kings 2 I Corinthian 1-7:19

121

1

12

II Kings 3-7            7:20-11 119:89-96 and    128

1

13

              8-12         12-16

135

2

14

              13-17 Mark 1-4

142

2

15

             18-22        5-8:21       

149

3

16

        23 – I Chon 2       8:22-11

6

3

17

  I Chron      3-7       12-14 119:97-104 and    13

4

18

              8-12       15-16

20

4

19

              13-17 II Cor 1-7

27

5

20

             18-22           8-13

34

5

21

             23-27 Galatians

41

6

22

    ” 28 – II Chron 3 Ephesians

48

6

23

         4-8 Luke 1-6:26

55

7

24

          9-13 6:27-9:17

62

7

         25

         14-18 9:18-12:31

69

8

26

          19-23 12:32-17:19

76

8

27

   II Chronicles  24-28 Luke 17:20-20

83

9

28

          29-33 21-24

90

9

                       29     34 – Ezra 2 Phil & Colossians

97

10

30

Ezra 3-7       I & II Thess.

104

10

31

   “ 8- Neh 2 John  1-4

111

11

32

Nehemiah 3-7          5-7

118

11

33

              8-12      8-11:29 119:105-112 &    125

12

34

     13 – Esther 4       11:30-15

132

12

35

Esther 4-9         16-21

139

13

36

      10 – Job 4 I Timothy

146

13

37

Job 5-9 II Tim & Titus

3

14

38

             10-14 Philem & Heb 1-6

10

14

39

             15-19 Hebrews 7-11

17

15

40

             20-24 Heb 12- James

24

15

41

          25-29 Acts 1-5

31

16

42

          30-34         6-9

38

16

43

          35-39        10-14

45

17

44

  ” 40-42  Ecc. 1, 2        15-18

52

17

45

Ecclesiastes 3-7       19-22

59

18

46

            8-12        23-28

66

18

47

Song of S. 1-5 I & II Peter

73

19

          48

    6- Isaiah 2 I, II & III John

80

19

49

  Isaiah      3-7 Jude- Rev 6

87

20

50

              8-12 Rev 7-13

94

20

51

              13-17 Rev 14-22

101

21

                       52              18-22

108

21

YEAR THREE wk-
                         1     Isaiah    23-27 Matt 1-6:18

115

22

2

            28-32          6:19-10:20 119:113-120 &    122

22

3

            33-37        10:21-14:21

129

23

4

            38-42        14:22-18:35

136

23

5

Isaiah 43 – 47         19-22

143

24

6

          48-52         23-26:25

119:121-128 & 150

24

7

            53 – 57 26:26 – 28

7

25

8

            58-62 Romans 1-7

14

25

9

  63 – Jeremiah 1 Romans 8-11

21

26

10

Jeremiah 2-6 Romans 12-16

28

26

11

          7-11 I Corinthian 1-7:19

35

27

12

          12-16            7:20-11

42

27

13

          17-21         12-16

49

28

14

          22-26 Mark 1-4

56

28

15

          27-31        5-8:21       

63

29

16

          32-36       8:22-11

70

29

17

          37-41       12-14

77

30

18

          42-46       15-16

84

30

19

          47-51 II Cor 1-7

91

31

20

     52           8-13

98

31

21

Lament 1-5 Galatians

105

                               1

22

Ezekiel  1-5 Ephesians

112

2

23

                6-10 Luke 1-6:26                            126                                3

24

            11-15 6:27-9:17 119:129-136 &    133

4

         25

             16-20 9:18-12:31

140

                               5

26

     Ezekial     21-25 Luke  12:32-17:19

147

6

                       27             26-30 17:20-20

4

                               7

28

             31-35 21-24

11

8

                       29              36-40 Phil & Colossians

18:1-24

                               9

30

             41-45 I & II Thess.                    18:25-50

10

31

             46-48 John  1-4

25

                             11

32

Daniel 1-5          5-7

32

12

33

      ” 6-10      8-11:29

39

                             13

34

Daniel 11, 12       11:30-15

46

14

35

Hosea 1-5         16-21

53

                             15

36

        6-10 I Timothy

60

16

37

Hosea 11-14 II Tim & Titus

67

                             17

38

Joel 1-3 Philem & Heb 1-6

74

18

39

Amos 1-5 Hebrews 7-11

81

                             19

40

Amos 6-9 Heb 12- James

88

20

41

Obadiah Acts 1-5

95

                             21

42

Jonah 1-4         6-9

102

22

43

Micah 1-4        10-14

109

                             23

44

Micah 5-7        15-18

116

24

45

Nahum1-3       19-22    119:137-144 & 123                              25

46

Habakkuk  1-3        23-28

130

26

47

Zephaniah 1-3 I & II Peter

137

                             27

          48

Haggai 1-2 I, II & III John

144

28

49

Zechariah 1-5 Jude- Rev 6              119:145-152                              29

50

            6-10 Rev 7-13              119:153-160

30

51

  Zechariah   11-15 Rev 14-22             119:161-168                              31
                       52 Malachi 1-4             119:169-176

31

 

You Can Stay

You Can Stay

Romans 15:13

The Rockies spread in panorama from the windows of the sun porch.  High on the ridge, behind a wall of glass, I look out over the city in the valley, and then my eyes involuntarily lift to the hills.  They rest on the snowy peaks that rise against  the vast sky-sea.  What a privilege it is to enjoy, for a season, the blessings this home offers.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

May… the apostle Paul, after pages of gospel teaching, now prays for the believers in Rome — those who were called to belong to Jesus Christ back then, over there.  Not only them, but it is a prayer for those of us today who are called to belong to Jesus, too.  

the God of hope  It is a prayer to God, specifically designating him as the God of hope.   He is the God of grace, the God of peace — the list of his attributes goes on and on.  After pages of doctrinal teaching, and then more pages of instruction on how to live by it in a world and culture that scorns the gospel, this prayer encourages faith.  So God, the creator and source of hope, offers himself to us.  “Hope” is the qualifier, the adjective.  God is the subject.  He gives us his own Person, Jesus Christ, first and foremost.

fill you with all joy and peace  Joy and peace!  Yay!!  That’s what we want.  “Please God, give us joy and peace.  Most of all, give us peace in this uncertain time.”  The temptation is to focus on these gifts of grace; to claim joy and peace as a right to which we assume we are naturally entitled.  But these are not blessings that God distributes indiscriminately so that we can feel happier about ourselves.  Peace and joy are directly connected with the author of them.  We don’t have one without the other.

in believing … peace and joy are what the God of hope plants in the hearts of those who believe him; who believe the God of the gospel that Paul has just described in the preceding chapters of his letter; for those who take more delight in His person than even they do in his gifts.  God distributes joy and peace to those who believe him so that they can be satisfied in him.

…so that by the power of the Holy Spirit  We want peace – we need hope that inner peace is even possible.  Yet we are powerless to attain hope.  We, by nature and from birth, run from the God of hope.  Praise God!  He takes care of that impossibility for us, too!  The Holy Spirit himself transforms our heart from one that runs from God, to one that runs to him, thus …

you may abound in hope.   We know hope in a reconciled relationship with the God of hope.  Then, only then, does genuine, rock solid peace come.  Any other gift of his grace is but a vapor.

My stay in the home with the panoramic view is temporary.  I bask in the same sunlight that warms the owners of the home.  I curl in the same cozy chairs.  I delight in the very same views that give them delight.  On the surface of it, our experience looks identical.  But there is a difference.  They can stay.  It is theirs and they belong here.  I must leave.  It is not mine; I don’t really belong here. 

We who are reconciled to the God of hope are at home with him.  We live and move and have our being in him.  This is where we belong. There will never come a time when we must leave.

His peace and joy are ours in abundance today and every day.  He is not a vapor; he is Rock solid and unchanging.

My Father in heaven, you are my God of hope.  I recognize you as the author and source of hope.  Forgive me for my unwillingness to sit quietly with your word, to spend much time getting to know and understand you, yet praying for peace. Give me grace to desire you more than I desire your good gifts.

Thank you for adopting me into your family and for your Holy Spirit who has opened my heart to turn from my sinful ways and believe you.  

In this season of crisis, your people rise to model Christ’s love by taking food to the vulnerable, by sharing instead of hoarding, by being peaceable and spreading the blanket of God’s grace over the anxious ones.  But please move us to tell these same people about the God of hope; that these cans of food, or comforting, live-streamed church services, or kind phone calls are all just temporal gifts.  The peace they bring will not last.   Help us take the next step, inviting them to hear how God wants to reconcile them to himself and make them a very child of his home.  May we take the time to offer them the God of hope.  Amen.

Fret Not (take 2)

Fret Not (take 2)

Psalm 37:8 

Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evil doing.

Note the proximity of fretting to anger.  Matthew Henry comments, “A fretful, discontented spirit lies open to many temptations; and those that indulge it are in danger of doing evil.”

We are told not to fret [Fret Not – Psalm 37] about the atrocities of evil, wicked people.  We are not to rage within ourselves because they seem to be successful in their plans.  We are also within the scope of Scripture truth when we open the warning to include every area of our lives.

The Holy Spirit reveals to David the remedy for ending our fretful thoughts and anxious behaviors.

  1. “Trust in the Lord”. (vs3)  Ah, we must recognize that fretting and trusting cannot occupy the same heart.  With that recognition comes confession, contrition and repentance.
  2. “and do good.”  Next, we occupy ourselves with activity that God has put before us; our daily tasks are holy and blessed by God.
  3. “Delight yourself in the Lord.” (vs 4)  God is kind and gracious to give us such a sweet command!  His smile is upon us (and maybe the angels applaud!) when we take His word in our hands to read because we want to know him and love Him.   Trust and delight go hand in hand.
  4. “Commit your way to the Lord.”  (vs 5) In fact, we must roll the whole burden of our life onto the Lord.  We place our desires and our cares, and even the perceived barriers to our way, right into his hands.
  5. “Be still before the Lord.”  (vs 7)  Rest your thoughts in the Lord.  Cease the clamoring of your mind and frenetic activity.  But rest under the Savior’s gaze.
  6. “and wait patiently for him.”  Oh, my friends, what a relief to have the burden of working it all out rolled off our own trembling shoulders!  We humbly submit to his time table.  And we have peace.
  7. “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!”  This admonition is a jolt immediately following the positive instructions.  Do we wonder what anger had to do with it?  This is proof that God knows us better than we know ourselves.  Even our sense of righteousness and justice are so quickly twisted into anger, leading to vengeance.  

So, are these numbered items like pills in a bottle that we pull off the shelf when we feel “symptoms of anxiety”?   “Take one, and you’ll feel better”.  By no means!  Psalm 37 explains a lifestyle to us.  This is how we, as followers of Christ, need to orient our daily worship.  Interspersed between each “do this” or “be this way”, God reminds us of who he is.  He stops us at every point and tells us to look at him, his character, his promises.  Note that God is the object in every command here.  He is our goal.  We are headed towards him.  “Don’t fret!  I, the Lord your Savior and God, have it all taken care of.”

Lord, I am anxious about many things.  I deceive myself into believing that I’m merely thinking benign thoughts about a certain person or event, future, present or past.  But when my thoughts return again and again to it, and the taste is bitter, I confess that I am fretting.  I take issue with your way of working in another person’s life.  I fear that your goodness towards them means less goodness for me.  I fret over this.  In your mercy, forgive me.  

I fret over the commentaries on the daily news.  They lay the bait:  get agitated.  So I do.  Help me to believe that you really are a good God and in control.  Give me grace to delight in your plan to bring justice.  Give me patience to wait for it, to wait for you.  

Strengthen me to turn my hands to the tasks you have given me today; to turn my mind to think on your perfect ways; and my soul to be at rest under your gaze.  Forgive me for insisting on having justice my way.  Help me to wait on your timetable for you to bring justice, to avenge yourself on those who downright hate you and your word.  You are my vindicator, and the vindicator of all those who trust in you.  Evil will not last forever, praise be to you! 

Deliver me from the evil in my own heart: from rage, fretting, envy and, most of all, the resulting, inevitable anger towards you.

To you, the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be all glory, majesty authority and dominion before all time, and now and forever.  Amen”

Self-Revelation

Self-Revelation

“… but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”  John 20:31 

Rows of picture albums and stacks of diaries lined the shelves.  It was old stuff.  It was her history, her experiences and her responses to them.  There were pages of silly, junior high drama.  And pages telling how God was working in her soul.  She is revealed within the albums and journals.  There is the compulsion to downsize; to de-clutter the spaces.  What to do with all this history, these snapshots of herself in image and written word?  Upon her death, someone, out of curiosity,  might pick up these pages written in her own hand.  They might find actual, hand written work a novelty!  (How old must this ink be?)  They might only want to know something about her for their own satisfaction.  This is not a personal knowing.

Reading the self-revelations of a person when they are dead bears no relational fruit.  But if those revelations are read and the person is living, the reader has opportunity to actually know the writer.  One can ask for clarification, or enquire deeper into the meaning.  The result is a personal relationship that goes two ways; it is not merely reading about her, but knowing, personally.

My thoughts turn to another set of writings.  Sixty-six books, to be exact.  These were written by a living God (using men as his vehicle) so that we might read them and know him, the Author.  God intensely desires us to know him.  Everything that is necessary to bring us into a peaceful relationship with God is revealed in these books, the sixty-six combined together and called the Holy Bible.   All of Genesis through Revelation tells the truth about his character, identity, attributes and his actions.   Do we read His self-revelations out of curiosity, simply to know about him or get some information?  Or do we read the Bible believing that God is alive, he is available and we can know him?

Forget the dairies of old ladies.  If you only have time to read one thing, spend it in the Bible and know God who is, who was, and who is to come.  

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”  I John 5:13

When All Is Not As It Should Be…

When All Is Not As It Should Be…

Celebrate!

Second Chronicles records events in the lives of the exiles recently returned from Babylon to their homeland, Israel.  Amidst the physical hardships of rebuilding and the heartache of lost glory, we read that God still wanted them to celebrate the Passover.  This is where you might stop and take a closer look at II Chronicles 35. 

Following God’s instructions, the people celebrated, and lavishly.  They pulled out all the stops as King Josiah ordered the biggest Passover celebration ever.  

“No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet.  None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

This must have been because they’d had a good year, things were going well for the nation, prosperity abounded, the people had been honoring the Lord God with all their hearts and obeying him in all things, therefore God had blessed them.  Right?  They were so happy about their successes that they decided to sacrifice more animals than ever before, prepare a bigger feast than ever before, dance more joyously and sing more songs.  All was as it should be.  Life was good and everyone was happy.  Right? 

Wrong.   Let’s look at the circumstances and historical context.  Not only were they suffering physical hardship, but they suffered the consequences of their unfaithfulness to God.  God speaks to them through his prophet, Isaiah.  In chapter 30 he declares that they are a people ashamed, humiliated.  Once mighty and proud, they are now disgraced.  They live in fear, at the mercy of their enemies.  They were an idolatrous, wicked and disobedient people.  Their nation was a lost cause.  The “people of God” languished in captivity and shame. 

Life was not good and neither were they.  They suffered every possible consequence of abandoning the Lord their God and living their own way.  Happiness was not the overriding emotion of the day.  So, what was there to celebrate?  Not themselves, not each other, that’s for certain.  Not their situation either.  What then?  The Passover was observed in the midst of sin and sorrow in order to remember that God had saved them out of slavery in the past, that he was their Savior and God and no other. Real celebrations find their meaning in who God is and in what he has done, not in who we are and what we have done.

The Passover looked back to what God had done, and also gave a future hope.  It is no different for us today.

Read Eph.1:7, 8. 

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,  according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight …” 

What words and phrases indicate things we have to celebrate?  What has God lavished on us?  God wants us to “eagerly and lavishly celebrate the great redemption we enjoy in Christ”.  And just like the Passover of Josiah’s day, it requires (as means allow) feasting, enjoying the sights, smells and taste of good food.  It begs song and dance to the glory of the Savior.  Our celebrating declares itself in visiting, praising and praying with others of the redeemed company.  

What is the next Red Letter Day on your calendar?  Are you a little anxious about the celebration?  Do you wonder if so-and-so will say something mean?  Or maybe your gift will fall flat, or you will be working too hard to enjoy it … Prepare yourself ahead of time.  Write down Ephesians 1:7, 8 (and even 9!).  Take this with you to the party.  When your thoughts take an unlovely turn, step away to repent and then to ponder the grace God has lavished on you through Christ.  Open your heart to receive these lavish, eternal, spiritual gifts.  Turn away from your brooding over gifts that are not offered; pining for what our fallen world can never produce.  Then, even if all is not as it should be, return to the party with a heart that celebrates the riches of his grace lavished upon you.

Even So, Celebrate!

Even So, Celebrate!

Even though Christmas is over, we can still talk about fruit cake, right?  That’s because genuine fruit cake, the kind created and enjoyed by subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, is made to last.  If it’s real it only improves as the winter carries on through January, into February, and beyond.  Real fruit cake is often just called “cake”.  To many in the world, cake, by definition, includes dried fruit.  For instance, if you go to the grocery store in southern Africa for “cake mix”, you might well come home with a bag of nothing more or less than “mixed fruit”.  Period.  This bag of dried fruit bits (not glazed or candied) became one item I regularly kept in the pantry.  I couldn’t bake without it and sorely miss it here in the U.S.  

Back in my “home” country, I long for “real cake”.  I resolved to make one this year.  I wanted to eat, and offer to anyone with a similar palate (which means I’m eating most of it myself), British fruit cake.  So of course I went online and found “Christmas Cake”.   Ah!  The real deal!  With my list of ingredients, I headed to the store, determined to practice self control and avoid “creative” substitutions.  Alas, though I searched various places, I couldn’t find currants that cost less than their weight in gold.  (Where, oh where, is my “cake mix”?)  Hence, my first substitution:  more raisins, sultanas and diced apricots, plus a load of dried, cherry flavored cranberries instead.  (I know my English friends are going “blaahhh” about now.)  I baked it in a tube pan instead of the normal round pan indicated.  Then came the long process new to me – feeding it weekly with sherry.  I baked it in early November, too late for the requisite three months feeding.  Two months would have to do.  

A section of the recipe was all about the “covering” applied at the end of the three month feeding period, before cutting into it.  Marzipan.  Royal icing.  Another costly and laborious addition.  And too sweet.  Nope, not doing it.  This is where I draw the line.  How many substitutions or changes have I now made to the recipe?  Will it still be Christmas Cake?

It isn’t as it should be, exactly.  Yet I’m not disappointed.  It’s quite tasty after all.  It’s a little celebration each time I indulge in a slice.  It was pure joy to gift a hunk of it to friends who also appreciate “real cake”.

That fruit cake is the story of my own celebrations, and the circumstances I’m in when the calendar tells me a Special Day approaches.  I want it to be perfect.  Can you relate to this?  The day should include the right ingredients of venue, menu, activity and, most of all, people.  There should be facial expressions and words spoken that settle well in our heart.  Most of all, the aftertaste, when it’s all over, should be satisfying in every way.  

Yet we find that nothing is just as it should be.  The Special Day would have been perfect except for the weather; except for the one who didn’t come; except for my lack of resources to do it up right …  And then there is our own sin that fidgets in everything we do.  Our lust to be loved, honored or treated in a particular way will cast a long shadow over any day, and particularly those Special Days.  Our brokenness, the brokenness of others, is a thorn in every relationship.  The let-down, the disappointment at the end isn’t worth the effort.  Our lives, our attitudes, our relationships aren’t in the right place to celebrate.  So do we just skip out?  Let me suggest a lesson from king Josiah found in II Chronicles 35, in the Bible.  Like my fruitcake, God’s chosen nation of Israel lacked the ingredients necessary to identify them as worshipers of the One True God.  His people were a mess, inside and out.  Even so, they were to prepare for and engage in a historic celebration.  I  hope you’re curious enough to check it out.  

I’ve written enough, and you’ve been patient enough to read this far.  I’ll test your attention no further – but, a sequel is coming!  There is a lot more goodness to lick off this spoon!