Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Let It Be Well...

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.” Horatio Spafford, ‘It Is Well with My Soul”

This is no doubt one of the most powerful songs to be sung because it was penned from a brokenhearted father who overlooked the 4 watery graves of his daughters.  Horatio Spafford stayed behind for business reasons back in 1873, while his wife and 4 daughters made a voyage to England.  He would join them after his business obligations had been fulfilled.  Their ship collided with another in the Atlantic where his daughters lost their lives.  He received a telegram from his wife that simply said, ‘Survived alone.’ “When Horatio Spafford sailed past the very spot on the Atlantic where his four baby girls sank into the depths, he grieved the passing away of things he knew were temporary.  Then he offered up these words of worship to the God who never moved, who presides over the sorrows and the seas.”  She Reads Truth, p. 160.  I can’t even imagine how he could sing these words, and I can’t even imagine how powerfully precious they were to the ears of God. 

Because we live in a broken world, we all experience deep suffering from losses that are forced upon us.  There will times when our lives are as peaceful as rivers, and then there are those times when mounting billows roll.  These are times when we have to force ourselves to let go and accept the circumstances that have crashed over our lives.  We are forced to wave goodbye to the temporary.  Horatio learned that through sorrows God taught him how to embrace the sorrowful times along with the joyful ones, and the difficult times with the peaceful times.  He taught this man that life will be an ebb and flow journey, and that God will always provide what is needed.  God wants our lives to be lived in complete trust during our temporary time on earth.  He desires that whatever comes our way in this broken world be well in our soul because we choose to hang on to the Permanent. The key word in this song is ‘taught’.  The only way I can say my challenging seasons are well with my soul is to have a teachable heart.  I must offer my suffering up to Him if I wish for things to ever be well in my soul again.  When we close our hearts to God’s grace and comfort, we close our hearts to healing.  Without a teachable heart, nothing life sends our way will be ‘well with our soul.’ 

With Thanksgiving upon us, I want to rejoice that it is well with my soul because this is not my home.  I want to sing with celebration that it is well with my soul because I will see all my loved ones again one day.  I thank God for my soul being well because of all the blessings in which I walk.  I want my heart to be confident that whatever future is up ahead, it will be well with my soul because God holds my entire future. 

Happy Thanksgiving and may it all be well with your soul because of the permanent love of God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Teddy Bear Exchange

“You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

A while back I saw this picture of Jesus asking the little girl to give up something priceless before showing her the exchange. She had to trust in His offer before she could see the reward. I am sure that the little girl didn’t even think she needed another teddy bear. She was content with the one she had…small in size…deep in comfort…longevity in possession.

In so many ways I am like this little girl. I hold tightly onto the comforts of this world, when God desires to give me so much more. I determine the measure of worth to precious things like my family, friends and possessions...grasping with white knuckles. This morning I visualized these bears representing my faith journey. God desires to expand and enlarge our faith, but it will always involve giving up something of this world to gain something larger from His hands. Many times, we fail to receive, because we are scared to believe. There have been many times when the exchange has happened…I reached out my little bear named Faith and God exchanged it for something grander. Other times, I have offered up my little Faith and my arms are still empty. But I fully understand that if the exchange hasn’t yet happened, it’s only because He knows that my arms are not yet big enough to receive the reward. Until that time, He gives peace…and I mean real peace. He gives His abundance …and I mean more of Him than I can ever imagine.

If God is asking you to give Him something, you can trust that what He is withholding will make your heart soar. You can trust that in the meantime He will be your peace and your abundance. Your faith will continue to grow as you lay things down at His feet.

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ And the Lord said, ‘If you have faith in God even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree which has very strong roots, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:5-6

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Permanence of Permanent

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’” says the Lord God, “‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Revelation 1:8.

It seems every time I turn around sin and death are lurking. Like many of you in your circle of influence, prayers are requested for so many things that it is difficult to keep up. The original fall from grace ushered in so much devastation that we can barely catch our breath from one heartbreak to another. As God wants to speak eternity in our hearts, Satan tempts us to believe that the temporary is the ultimate goal. The author of She Reads Truth cuts through the lies and reminds us there are only 4 things that are truly permanent…God…His word…our souls…His church. In a culture that wishes to confuse us about truth, Raechel Myers writes truth in her book saying that ‘everything other than these 4 things are all ashes and dust…it will all pass away…Breath is temporary, but life is valuable. Years are limited, but each life has an eternal weight to it. We can hope for people, but we cannot hope in people.” P. 149.

With Thanksgiving this week, it is easy to focus on the good things and people we have in our lives… these are our temporary pleasures given by God. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that the good things are still temporary things. Money will go away, jobs will end, relationships get fractured, and bodies wear out. Traumas and tragedies strike the very core of our hearts, and they should. God created us to feel deeply and to love relentlessly like He loves us. There is nothing wrong with loving and grieving our temporary things, but when we make it our ultimate thing is when it becomes an idol. Sometimes something very important like our job, spouse, children or grandchildren becomes more valuable to us than the One who is permanent. It’s why we can’t draw boundaries …it’s the reason we strain to have control over things that end up having control over us. We are trying to hold on tight to ashes and dust instead of the Creator who used it to create us.  While God intends us to love the life He designed for us, we are to hold our lives loosely as we seek God tightly. He was there in the beginning of our lives, He is with us in the present, and He will be there in the end with His arms opened wide.

We must remember that true contentment and joy can only come through keeping our eyes on the Permanent, and enjoying the temporary with a surrendered heart. Our temporary things…our ashes and dust…are incredible blessings from God. Let’s keep them where they belong…held loosely with deep gratitude for the time we have to enjoy them.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Eccl 3:11.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Best Field Trip Ever!

Listen, Shepherd…Rally your power…Revive us…Restore us, Lord…make your face shine on us…” Psalm 80:1-19.

I served as a chaperone on a field trip years ago that gave children who had never gone to the beach a day to discover that experience. The children came from families who used every penny just to feed their families. It was a very humbling day to see the splendor on their faces for one day, knowing that I had the privilege of going a few times a year growing up. One story that I still recount was when we were getting on the bus to go home, and I asked one little girl about her experience. She looked at me perplexed and said, ‘Mrs. Emmons, it was a great, but I know this beach was bigger when we got here than what it is now.’ You see, she knew nothing of the ebb and flow of the tides. She had not been exposed to that knowledge in her life. But in witnessing something new and powerful, she would never forget it because she experienced it. I’m sure many times after that day she looked for opportunities to experience that same event again. I wonder what impact that day had on her and it might have influenced her future.

There was another chaperone on a field trip back in the 1940’s. Dr. Edwin Orr, lecturer at Wheaton College, took a bus of students to John Wesley’s home. John Wesley was an English Anglican cleric and theologian who, with his brother Charles and fellow cleric George Whitefield, founded Methodism. Walking from room to room the students discovered evidence of the fervor of Wesley’s life. Wesley’s heart was on fire for spreading the message of Christ. The most notable marks of his life during that field trip were the two worn out patches on the carpet beside his bed. Orr explained that those worn impressions were the prayer marks of the time he spent on his knees asking for God to show His power to a disbelieving world. As the chaperone was taking a final headcount on the bus he noticed one student was missing. He retraced his steps and found him kneeling in the same spot that Wesley had knelt a century before. Respectfully, he gave the student a moment to finish his prayer and heard the young man say, ‘Do it again, Lord! Do it again!’ The two returned to the bus and the young student would never be the same and neither would we. That student was Billy Graham and God definitely DID IT AGAIN!

We can never be sure how God wants to use each of us. Graham was just a little boy from a dairy farm in Charlotte, NC. He had an open heart and spirit when God called him to set the world on fire. Every day is a field trip for all of us, if we will open our minds to the possibilities of what God can do through us to a watching world. God has been using ordinary people throughout time to do His extraordinary work. If we are fervent in our prayers, available in our lives and hungry in our walk God will certainly do it again!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dining With the Divine

“I will stand on my guard post and station myself…I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply…” Habakkuk 2:1

I remember one of the best pieces of advice I read about parenting when my kids were young was to encourage them to make decisions before they were in the certain situations. So, before they would attend a party, I would tell them to be resolved in their choices. I would remind them that it would be much easier to decide in advance how to respond to temptations instead of in the face of pressure from their peers. This beautiful verse in Habakkuk confirms the same principle. Habakkuk knows that the word from God isn’t going to be pretty. He fully understands that he is representing a group of people who have turned their backs on God. He is ready to face the music, and confident God is getting ready to act. But interesting enough, he seems more concerned with his response than his impending circumstances.

We should all have this level of concern with how we are going to accept God’s will. We pray for it…we sing about it…we recite it…but do we really embrace it when it appears to be contrary to our desires? We must decide before the outcome occurs that we will reply with trust in His wisdom, confidence in His plan, and hope in His better tomorrow. When we cannot understand why our loved one must depart, we can be sure we will see them again one day in heaven…and our reply can be deep gratitude. When employment opportunities seem to evaporate we can have hope that God has a better one for us…and our reply can be trusting. When that relationship seems to be losing its pulse we can remember that God always can bring reconciliation…and our reply can be hopeful.

Our joy and satisfaction are products of our responses to life’s difficult challenges. Like Habbakuk, we can’t have a timid spirit avoiding communication with God. We must stand watch for God, inviting Him into our challenging seasons, and deciding in advance that His will is not only good, but great for us. It’s not what we will have to digest because life has a buffet of both savory and unsavory. It is more about inviting God to dine with us no matter what the menu.

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight…” Jeremiah 15:16

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Leaving a Message

Why was no one there when I came? Why was there no one to answer when I called? Is my arm too weak to redeem? Or do I have no power to rescue?” Isaiah 50:2

I remember the morning after Daddy joined Jesus in his new home, we split up the list of people to whom we were to contact. Daddy’s work was first on my list, so I sat down to make the call. I was completely caught off guard when the answering machine clicked on and his voice pleasantly invited me to leave a message. His sweet voice assured me that he would return my call as soon as he could…but I knew that he was not there…that I would never get that call returned.

I sometimes feel like I’m leaving a message on God’s voice mail, hoping He will return the call. With my deepest desires on my lips and in my heart, I call to Him waiting for Him to answer me. Thoughts of whether He is still there…will He hear my message…will He return the call? But this morning I read our verse above and was convicted that maybe He is getting my voice mail…my rehearsed and formal message in my prayers, promising Him things on which I don't deliver. Am I giving Him the appropriate time to speak to me or am I just praying to check it off my list? (He knows it anyway, right?) The point is not whether He knows it or not, but rather will we bring it to Him to discuss in our fellowship time. Just as a voice mail only gives us limited information, short-circuited prayers lack the opportunities for God to discuss the details of our lives. I wonder how many times He came to me but ‘no one was there?’ Why didn’t I answer Him when I felt the conviction of the Spirit? It wasn’t until I turned to Him in intentional worship and meditation on His word that He connected His strength with my weakness. It wasn’t until the suffering came, that I kept dialing His number until He indeed showed me He was able to save.

Our prayer life can be challenging with life’s competing distractions. (After all a girl must check her Facebook first thing in the morning, right?) Many mornings my first call to God is for Him to settle my mind and heart so that I can focus on our communication. In my Bible Study, Priscilla Shirer talks about how she ‘deals authoritatively’ with her distractions and emotions. We must have authority over our thoughts and behaviors to really hear from God. He wants us to be home when He visits, and to answer when He calls.

Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.” Jeremiah 33:3.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Showing Up...

So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy…” Romans 7:16

I love taking my morning walks and usually take the same path.  There is this one area that has been cleared off, and gradually the skeleton of a structure has appeared.  Every time I walk by it I wonder what it is.  I try to guess sometimes but I still do not know what the outcome will be.  The other day as I was walking past the land there was a man lacing up his boots sitting in his car with the door open.  I stopped and asked him what were they building.  His response struck me funny at first, but after considering his words I was inspired.  He simply looked up, smiled and said, ‘I have no idea, they just told me to show up and they would tell me what I needed to know.’   

I began thinking about the times when God asked me to do something.  Unlike this worker, I’m sure I asked a million questions regarding God’s direction.  ‘How long will this job take?’  ‘How does my part fit in to my overall desires?’ ‘I want to know exactly what my circumstances are going to be.’  The list goes and on.  If we would just live our lives like this man…showing up…lacing up our boots to work…confident that the One in charge will tell us what we need to do…we will be a part of a beautiful story.  Our plans will become His plans, and the building of our lives will become His structure.  His vantage point is up above and far ahead than any perspective we might have.  We don’t need to know the inner workings of the plans God has for us.  Even if He revealed them to us, they probably would not make sense.  God’s plans for us are cumulative and progressive, one building on another. 

I love the image of the man showing up, getting his feet ready to contribute, and leaving everything else to the builder.  It is the way I want to be when God calls me to work for Him.  I want to be present and available.  I want to show up, so He can show out.  I want to be involved as a humble servant, instead of showing up as an entitled worker.  He will use us in His work to the degree of our surrendered hearts in our endeavors.  He is a great God with a great plan for our lives that He assigned us when He formed us.

"I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Romans 9:17