It’s Never Too Late

Today the Bible opened to a good reminder.   It is never too late to turn back to God.  God is always willing to take us back.

But if the wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live. He shall not die!  None of the crimes he has committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the justice he has shown.   Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked—oracle of the Lord GOD? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?

Ezekial 18:21-23

We all sin.  Sometimes worse than others.  No matter how wicked we may have been,  God wants us to return to Him.  He rejoices when we return to Him.  I love the last line: “Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?”  God wants us to live!  He rejoices, not because He wants to control us  — but He wants us to be happy.  He wants us to live! It is for our good, not His.

Lord,

Your love amazes me.  How awesome is your justice.  Thank you for loving us!  Thank you for wanting good for us.  Help us to want good for ourselves.  Help us to choose good over evil.  Help us to turn to you and know, no matter what we may have done, we can make amends by returning to you.

 

 

Pumpkins and Paramedics

Every day brings a new challenge, a new struggle. Some days the challenges are easy.  Today’s challenge was to carve a pumpkin and not embarrass my 16 year old son too much when he brought a new girl to the house.  I can manage that (for the most part).  But just a few days ago, the challenge involved the same son being strapped to a backboard after a high school soccer game, with his neck immobilized, and loaded into the back of a life squad.  Not as easy of a challenge to manage.

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.   Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.  For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.  So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:10-17

The life squad excursion ended up being precautionary and other than a sore neck and headache, my son is fine.  A temporary challenge.  As I read this passage, I thought of my son laying on the ground with the trainer holding his neck still until the life squad arrived.  His body was exhausted from a game that had gone into double over time.  He had done everything he could but his body wouldn’t let him do any more.  The paramedics slid a back board under his body, and began strapping the gold straps across his chest.  They crossed around the center of his body.  Then they crossed his arms across his chest and wrapped a blanket around him.  With the gold straps crossed around him — he looked protected.  An armor of sorts.

Our strength comes from God.    Like my son, there will be days when we are exhausted, when we have done everything we can.  But we do not have the strength or ability to do it alone.  We need the armor of God strapped around us, crossing our chest, our heart.  The strength we need comes from God’s truth, His righteousness and our readiness for the gospel.  Our faith is our shield and God’s word is our sword, it clears our path to victory.

I watched the paramedics slide a neck brace around my son’s neck without moving his head or neck even an inch.  Just as effortlessly we can take on the helmet of salvation.  God offers it to us, and like my son, sometimes we just need to lay still, and not turn our heads away.

God,

Help me to stand fast, with my feet deeply planted in your gospel.  Fill my hidden most parts with your truth.  Allow me to show your righteousness to the world, engraving it across my chest.  Make my faith strong so that its shield can protect me from all evil that may come my way.  Lead me with your word and your sword.  I draw my strength from you.

Thank you for taking care of my son.

The Book of Judith

Today the Bible opened to the book of Judith.  My first thought was “Oh no — Old Testament” — and, at first glance, it looked like a lot of historical genealogy about the,  son of Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel and son of Elkiah  — the sort of stuff that normally quickly puts me to sleep.  I was pleasantly surprised when I quickly landed on this passage:

All the men of Israel cried to God with great fervor and humbled themselves. They, along with their wives, and children, and domestic animals, every resident alien, hired worker, and purchased slave, girded themselves with sackcloth.  And all the Israelite men, women, and children who lived in Jerusalem fell prostrate in front of the temple and sprinkled ashes on their heads, spreading out their sackcloth before the Lord.  The altar, too, they draped in sackcloth; and with one accord they cried out fervently to the God of Israel not to allow their children to be seized, their wives to be taken captive, the cities of their inheritance to be ruined, or the sanctuary to be profaned and mocked for the nations to gloat over.  The Lord heard their cry and saw their distress.

Judith 4: 9-13

It is always good to be reminded that in times of distress we need to call out to God.  In Judith, the Israelites were being threatened with war by the Assyrians. I thought I would just write about this, but then I read further (an advisor to the Assyrians told the leader):

“As long as the Israelites did not sin in the sight of their God, they prospered, for their God, who hates wickedness, was with them.   But when they abandoned the way he had prescribed for them, they were utterly destroyed by frequent wars, and finally taken as captives into foreign lands. The temple of their God was razed to the ground, and their cities were occupied by their enemies.  But now they have returned to their God, and they have come back from the Diaspora where they were scattered. They have reclaimed Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and have settled again in the hill country, because it was unoccupied.  “So now, my master and lord, if these people are inadvertently at fault, or if they are sinning against their God, and if we verify this offense of theirs, then we will be able to go up and conquer them. But if they are not a guilty nation, then let my lord keep his distance; otherwise their Lord and God will shield them, and we will be mocked in the eyes of all the earth.”

Judith 5: 17-21

What a prescription for life!  We make ourselves weak when we sin.   When we abandon the way God prescribes for us, we are utterly destroyed.  Hmmm.  Could our country learn something from this?

We make ourselves strong when we stand with God.

I thought this would be all I wrote, but then I read further — surprisingly it was actually quite riveting (the Israelites were about to give up until Judith stepped in and said):

Who are you to put God to the test today, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs?  And now it is the Lord Almighty you are putting to the test, but you will never understand anything!  You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can you fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan?  “No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God.   For if he does not plan to come to our aid within the five days, he has it equally within his power to protect us at such time as he pleases, or to destroy us in the sight of our enemies.  Do not impose conditions on the plans of the Lord our God. God is not like a human being to be moved by threats, nor like a mortal to be cajoled.

“So while we wait for the salvation that comes from him, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our cry if it pleases him.

Judith 8:12-17

How many times do I try to bargain with God or cajole him.  Judith’s words from thousands of years ago, strike pure today.   We cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can we fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan?  Who are we to think we can even try.  We just need to accept God’s plan.  And know that it is for our good.  He knows.  And no matter how we try, it is not humanly possible for us to fully grasp the reasons why.  Judith went on to say:

“Therefore, my brothers, let us set an example for our kindred. Their lives depend on us, and the defense of the sanctuary, the temple, and the altar rests with us.  Besides all this, let us give thanks to the Lord our God for putting us to the test as he did our ancestors.  Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tested Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother.  He has not tested us with fire, as he did them, to try their hearts, nor is he taking vengeance on us. But the Lord chastises those who are close to him in order to admonish them.”

Judith 8:24-27

Read this passage again.  I find it amazingly uplifting.  First, our kindred’s lives depend on us.  Now that could seem burdensome, but I find it to be great guidance on how to live life when troubles seem to abound.  What better way to forget your own troubles than to focus on those around you?  Our kindred, our faith, our church depend on us, each of us.  What would happen if we all gave up?

And more importantly thank God for putting us to the test — thank God for the struggles — why — because He chastises those who are close to Him in order to admonish or warn them — in order to help guide us!  God loves us.  The tests, the struggles, the burdens are not to harm us — but to strengthen us and make straight our path to Him.  All of those close to Him have suffered in some fashion — indeed, we all suffer, we all go through dark times.  But God has given us kindred to help and like a good parent gentle reminders of the path we need to be on when we stray.  Sometimes the reminders may not be as gentle as we would like — but they are what we need to bring us back to the path to God.

Lord,

Thank you for all of the gentle reminders you throw my way, and even for the not so gentle reminders.  Strengthen me so that I may help others.  Guide me in the path to you.  Help me to be patient when I do not understand your ways or the path that I am on.  Help me to trust and let go in you.

When Did We Forget?

Keep holy the Sabbath.  We all know that.  And yet …  the stores are all open, the restaurants are booming, the kids have soccer tournaments and basketball games …

The LORD said to Moses:  You must also tell the Israelites: Keep my sabbaths, for that is to be the sign between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the LORD, who make you holy.  Therefore, you must keep the sabbath for it is holiness for you. Whoever desecrates it shall be put to death. If anyone does work on that day, that person must be cut off from the people.  Six days there are for doing work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD. Anyone who does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. So shall the Israelites observe the sabbath, keeping it throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant.  Between me and the Israelites it is to be an everlasting sign; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day he rested at his ease.

Exodus 31:12-17

I remember when businesses were closed on Sundays.  I love that Chik-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby still are.  When did it become ok for the rest of us?

I have used plenty of justifications over the years as to why it is ok.  But none of them make sense.  (Doesn’t a seventh day of rest sound wonderful?)  Particularly as I read this passage: “that is to be the sign between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the LORD, who make you holy.”  It is not that we have forgotten to keep holy the Sabbath — it is that we have forgotten to remember that it is the Lord who makes us holy.   We can do more for ourselves on Sunday:  make more money, play more games, take charge of our lives.  And at the same time, forget that we don’t need to do it all on our own — it is the Lord who makes us holy.

Lord,

Forgive me for working on Sunday.  Unfortunately I will need to ask for your forgiveness again tomorrow.  Help me to remember that you make us holy — help me to let go and let you make me holy!  Thank you for giving us a day of rest.

 

 

Love in Deed

Remember the Whitney Houston song “How will I know”?  Today’s bible passage reminds me of the refrain: how will I know if he really loves me.

Do not be amazed, [then,] brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?  Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

1 John 3:13-18

How do we know that God loves us?  He gave his life for us.  He gave us life.  Look around. The world is a beautiful place.

How will others know that we love them? Words are not enough.  We must love in deed and truth. God shows us His love.  Do we show others ours?

We doubt God’s love, despite everything He does for us.  Yet we sometimes expect others to accept our words.

Lord, thank you for showing me your love. Help me to to share your love with others. Help me to love in deed.

 

 

Love is all you need

Love.  A simple 4 letter word.  But it is the answer to everything.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, “Master, [then] what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

John 14:15-23

Love.   My heart swells when I read this passage.  My Father will give me an Advocate who will be with me always.  Jesus will not leave me.  He will come to me. I will live. I will be loved.   Jesus will reveal himself to me.  And God will make his dwelling with me.

What more could I ask?

All He asks from us is to love Him.  And if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  Love God first.  Keeping the commandments will naturally follow.

God loves us.  He wants us to love Him.  That is our purpose.  To love.  To love God and to love each other.  Love.

I love you, Lord!  I am working on loving others (some are easier than others).  I need your help.  Help me to know true love. Help me to show true love.

Let me cling no more!

Oh.  Today the Bible opened and hit me right where I feel most vulnerable.  Jesus’ words expose my weakness.

So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;  In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’  You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Mark 7: 5-8

“You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”  It is amazing that 2000 years later Jesus’ words are still spot on.  Very few things survive the test of time or maintain their relevancy.  But God’s words do.  I should be in awe by this — but in my head my response is “Of course God’s words are still good.”  And my second thought is, why haven’t we learned this by now.

Jesus has hit right on the head where many of my failings start and where I sometimes get lost — following human tradition, following human ways.  It is easier to see and follow human rule.  God’s rules are not so easy and there isn’t always the immediate response to know when we are on the right path.  As humans though we receive money and praise and facebook likes when we have done “good” under human standards.

Wouldn’t it be great if God could send us a thumbs up picture when we do good.  And a quick thumbs down when we do wrong — or even better a big thumbs down right before we do wrong.

But as I think about it…  He kind of does.  It just may not be that blatant.  But I feel the guilt.  It is just easier to ignore.  Particularly when there is human reward.  Oh I am stupid.  I know that God’s reward is far greater.  But I do it time and again.

My hope in today’s verse, is that I am not alone.  For 2000 years this has been an issue.  I need God’s grace and forgiveness, just like everyone who has come before me.

Father,

I am a sinner.  I have disregarded you and your commandments more times than I can count.  Help me to fix my eyes on you.  Help me fix my eyes on the reward in heaven.  Help me to live as you want — not as the human world rewards.  Help me to cling no more to human traditions and human ways.  Help me put my heart into my prayers and into following you so they are not just words on my lips.  I need your grace.  I need your forgiveness.  Forgive me, Father.

 

An Easy Choice

Everyday we make choices.  Some are good.  Some not so much.  Some are important.  Some not so much.  Some are easy. Some not so much.  Tonight, the Bible opened to Joshua:

“Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him completely and sincerely. Cast out the gods your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  If it is displeasing to you to serve the LORD, choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua 24:14-15

I have heard the last line before, but never read the context surrounding it before.  What suddenly struck me tonight, was the choice.   Joshua tells the Israelites to make a choice.  If they are going to serve the Lord, then serve Him, commit to it and make a covenant to do so.  Seems like an easy choice.   What really strikes me in this passage is Joshua’s statement: if it is displeasing to you to serve the Lord, choose whom you will serve. I am struck by a statement that seems to make no sense: how could serving the Lord be displeasing?  It might not always be easy, but displeasing? No way!  I cannot think of anything displeasing about serving God.  And yet, I do not always serve Him.  Laziness, taking the easy way, following the crowd, lots of excuses.  But no good reason.  Maybe, it is because I have not affirmatively made the choice.  I have not committed or made a covenant or promise. I have just gone about life.  Choose, Joshua says.  As for him and what he can control, he will serve the Lord.  He encourages the Israelites to do the same, but ultimately it is their choice. Just like it is our choice.

God,

I choose to serve you.

Seek, Fear, Love

The Bible is filled with reminders that if we seek the Lord He will be found.

The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he destroys.

Psalm 145:18-20

The Lord asks us to seek Him, fear Him and love Him.  The seeking and loving I get – the fearing, I struggle with.

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him. We have all heard this. I certainly want Him to be near.  And yet I don’t seek Him as much as I should.  We should  reach out more.  He should be our first  speed dial.  He should be tagged in all our posts.  Knowing, as we do,  that when we seek Him He is near, why aren’t we constantly and honestly seeking Him?

I have never liked the Bible verses that suggest we must fear the Lord.  I suppose I want the warm, gentle God. The post 80’s Father, where corporal punishment is discouraged – so surely smiting must be out of the question.  I am not sure that God wants us to fear Him, at least I want to believe that He doesn’t. So why is the Bible filled with fear?   I think the fearing is necessary.  I think we need to fear to recognize how much we need God.  Without fear, we think we can do anything. We think we are invincible.  We think we don’t need God. And then where would we be?  God saves us.  He saves us from ourselves.

Ultimately, God is love.  And He wants us to love Him.  This is a hard juxtaposition – fear and love.  God wants us to come to Him in love.  Not out of obligation.  As a parent, we don’t want just the obligatory hug and I love you from our children. We want the warm hug and meaningful expression of love.  We want our kids to want to be with us.  But we will sometimes take what we can get, hoping that as they mature, they will come back. So does God.

I wish I could show Him how much I love Him.  But my love is immature compared to His.

Lord,

Teach me to love. I want to be with you.  I don’t want to fear you, but I fear being without you.  I want to honor and respect you.  You are almighty.  You can destroy or buildup. I am nothing but what you have created. I am nothing without you.  I owe everything to you.  Help me to grow through your love, your grace and your mercy.

Conquer Evil With Good

Another day marked by tragic events. I was led to today’s verse by the radio this morning.  Do not let evil overcome you, the radio announcer said, but overcome evil by good.   Tonight I flipped the Bible to Romans and read the entire section:

Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute [you],
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil;
be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.
If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

This seems to say it all. If only it were easy to do.  Let love be sincere.  Love is not always easy.  Sometimes we just pay it lip service.  But God’s love is always sincere.  God’s love for us is true even when we do wrong  – even when we hurt Him.  Can we show the same love to others?

Weep with those who who weep (our thoughts certainly go out to those who are suffering). But do not  repay evil with evil.  Live at peace with all.  That is hard.   Even harder is this: bless and do not  curse those who persecute you!

Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit.  It is easy to to rejoice in God when the sun is shining.  We cannot grow slack in zeal when dark clouds surround us.  Even more must we be fervent. Even more must we ignite God’s fire.

Rejoice in hope — no matter the struggle, our hope in the the Lord, in His salvation, is empowering.

Endure in affliction — GOD will see us through!

Persevere in prayer — all we need to do is Pray!

Serve the Lord!

If we do these things, if we persevere in prayer and try to do these things, we will not be conquered.  We will not be conquered by evil. We will conquer evil with good.

Dear Lord,

Take care of those who are suffering tonight.  Wrap them in your loving embrace.  May they rejoice in hope.  And please bless those who have caused the suffering.  I pray that they come to know you.  Wrap them in your loving grace.