Stop and Start

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Well, he did it again! My growth group leader taught a lesson last week that was so good, I’ve just got to share it with you. So, in the edited words of Jim Harris, I give you “Stop and Start”.

What do we need to do when troubles come?

STOP thinking that God is angry with us. Romans 8:1 tells us there’s no condemnation for us. Our sin was dealt with at the cross.

STOP trying to take control. God is sovereign. He’s in control of the day of our birth, the day of our death and everything in between.

START trusting in God’s ways even when you don’t understand them. (That’s what it means to walk by faith.) Isaiah 55:8 tells us why: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”

START believing God’s promises. You’ll find hundreds of them in the Bible. It’s a fallen world. Life is not fair. Bad things happen. But God promises us good. Joseph waited in an Egyptian prison. Peter slept many nights in prison. Look what happened! God’s people were saved from starvation. Christianity was spread.

God has a reason for every trial or trouble, and he wants us to depend on him!

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Even If…

forest-1529055__480 fear pixa 7 9 18I used to struggle with fear. A month or so ago my sister challenged me to put into words the change God has wrought in me. It’s taken awhile for me to find a way to do that, but now I realize the heart of the matter comes from switching just one word for another.

What if?” has become “Even if!”

Recognition of all the hard things life can bring is now enveloped in the realization that I’ll never face any of those things without the surrounding love of our Lord. My fear of what might happen has been overcome by my assurance that, while most of the things my imagination drums up will never occur, even those that do will be managed by my King.

And I am not alone in this understanding.

  • Daniel 3:16-18 tells us, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”
  • Esther 4:15-16 says, “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’”
  • And in Matthew 26: 39-42, you can read this about Jesus: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’…He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’”

We’ve all been plagued by imaginary horrors, by the “What if?” that marches across the brain, pushing out peace. I hope you’ll take up the weapon of “Even if!” to join Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, and our Lord in defeating the enemy in his fearful ploys, finding the peace that passes understanding once again!

Ambassadors

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I wonder what it would be like to be an ambassador to some foreign place. I suppose at times I’d feel quite important, having been commissioned as an official representative by the leaders of my country. Other times, I expect I’d feel a bit lonely and lost, living in a place that wasn’t my home. Above all, I think I’d carry with me a sense of great responsibility, wondering who was listening, watching and assuming that my daily choices were typical of my countrymen.

The Apostle Paul considered himself to be Christ’s ambassador even when he was in jail. And in 2 Corinthians 5:20, he commissioned us, saying, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

This is an important calling! It’s issued not by leaders of our country, but by the Creator of our universe via his servant and messenger, Paul. Our ambassadorship isn’t an option. We represent Christ, every day, wherever we go and in whatever we’re doing—or not doing, “as though God were making his appeal through us.” God speaking through us is a heady thought.  How do we react to disappointment or mistreatment? What do we do with our spare time? What do our facial expressions convey when we don’t think anyone is watching?

Do you ever feel a bit lonely or lost in this world? A bit out of place? That’s to be expected, and Paul tells us how to handle it—be reconciled to God. It’s only through a closer walk with the Lord who loves us that we can fulfill our calling. When we’re trusting him in all things, we can get through the muck and mire that the world tends to dish out. Our response to trouble ought to be an immediate cry to our Lord for perspective, protection and direction—as long as we’re reconciled to him. If we’ve allowed our relationship to grow cold, to be walled off—perhaps by sin or selfishness—it’s easy to forget that he’s right there ready to help.

Most of us will never be asked to go live in some foreign place and represent our country. We’ve been commissioned, though, to an even greater calling. When you head out today, imagine yourself wearing the badge of a diplomat. (Okay, maybe they don’t wear badges, but you get my drift.)

Let your light so shine!

 

(Photo from Pixabay)

How Faith Comes (by Beth Smith)

ear pixa 5 16 18When times are tough, we may feel as if we’re losing our faith in God. That’s when we need these verses:

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NASB). I’ve heard the Word for sixty years, so why does my faith wax and wane? Well, there’s hearing and there’s hearing .

Proverbs 4:20-23 says, “My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ears to my words…Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

What comes out of our hearts? Jesus said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34 NIV). We find out what’s in our hearts by noticing what we say. If our hearts are full of God’s words, his truth, then that’s what will come out of our mouths.

What we say is really important. Jesus said we would be both justified and condemned by our words. Good words should come out of our mouths! I remember an old song that said, “You’ve gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.”[1]

Sure, we’re going to have troubles and heartaches. We live in a fallen world. That’s why we need a strong, confident, consistent faith—faith in Almighty God, faith that carries us through anything and everything. We need to use the promises he gives us, and let our faith be activated by his words.

For example, if we’re feeling afraid, we can turn to Psalm 56:11 (NIV), “In God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?” The Bible is full of verses we can rely on when we’re afraid. Once we see and hear the words, and let them into our minds, they begin to guard our hearts. And then, faith is produced.

Faith comes by hearing. That’s a great promise! If we go through a time of doubting, we needn’t worry. Faith comes. It comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

[1] Words and Music by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, 1944.

 

You Win the Serve!

 

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I grew up in South Florida, Hollywood to be exact. It was a great place to be a kid. I’ll spare you the long list of delights and simply describe one—paddleball. Paddleball is a bit like racquetball except:

  • The paddle is all wood.
  • The ball is pink and very bouncy.
  • The court is outside, and open except for the front wall.

Good luck finding many paddleball courts, or paddle balls for that matter, now.(I couldn’t even find a photo!) But once upon a time, it was all the rage. There were courts by the schools, courts at public parks and courts by the beach, all of them crowded.

My dad taught me to play paddleball. It was great fun and a great workout. I didn’t realize until recently that it was also a great way for him to instill his positive attitude in me.  As a general rule, my dad did not let me win.

Lesson number one: Life doesn’t always give you what you want.

The rules of paddleball are pretty simple.

  • When your opponent slams the ball off the front wall, hit it before it bounces more than once.
  • Make sure your return sends the ball to the front wall before it hits the ground again.
  • Don’t hit the ball out of bounds. (You’ll lose the point, and you’ll have to go running for it. Remember, no back wall!)

We would play until we were drenched with sweat and out of breath. We’d laugh a lot. I haven’t played in decades, but my imagination can take me back to the court by Hollywood Hills Elementary School in an instant.

Lesson number two: Simple things, done with those you love, are priceless.

My dad is really good with words. He would say silly things as we played like “7- Up, the all family drink” when we were tied 7-7 and “We all need fortitude” when the score was 4-2. But the one I remember best is this: “You win the serve.” In racquetball, whoever loses a game gets to serve first for the next one.  I never once heard my dad say, “You lost.” He always said, “You win the serve.”

Lesson three: A whole lot of life is dependent on how you look at things.

My dad has had his share of hardship. You don’t need to read his list. You’ve got your own list. But he would be the first to tell you that he has lived and is living a life into which the Lord has poured great blessing.

  • He would tell you that sometimes he’s won the game and sometimes he’s won the serve.
  • He would recount the importance of spending time with those you love.
  • He would remind you that you won’t always win, but that will be okay.

My dad is a smart guy. I hope you’ll benefit from some of his wisdom today!

Target Practice (Written a week ago)

 

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As I write this, I’m on a plane headed to Dallas from Vancouver, BC. This sounds delightful, except for the fact that, when I boarded the plane, it was headed to Austin (as in my hometown). Moments before we were due to land, the captain came on the speaker and said, “Folks, you’ve probably noticed how we’ve been flying around in a circle for a while. There’s a bit of bad weather in Austin right now. We can only circle for about 10 more minutes before we’ll have to reroute.” You could almost feel the hopes and prayers flowing through the cabin as we circled, but the scheduled landing was not to be. ‘Same goes for the Fourth of July evening I thought we’d be spending watching fireworks with our grandchildren. Ditto for the good night’s sleep to make up for our very early departure to the airport this morning.

So, now I get to practice what I preach, to trust that all will be well, to exhibit a joyful God-is-in-control attitude as I await further news and instructions. It helps to look at my blessings here:

  • I am NOT in the tight and non-reclining last row, center seat. (‘Did that last month for a short flight that couldn’t have been short enough.)
  • I still have a good bit left in my water bottle and one more snack bar. (Okay, it’s not a snack bar, it’s a packet of instant oatmeal, but that’s better than nothing if we’re stuck in plane for hours. Maybe Steve has a little bit of chocolate left and will be willing to share.)
  • My phone still has juice, so I can read more of the Eugene Peterson book Steve bought for us on Kindle.
  • I followed the nudge to wear very light clothes, which will come in handy if we sit on the tarmac and the a/c goes weak.
  • Steve is with me, and we are safe.

There’s probably even more hidden blessings here. Some I may notice later. Some I may never know about. But I am here. And I am smiling. And I hope my “misfortune” will be, as you read this, a word of encouragement for you today.

(Photo by Nickas Tidbury via Unsplash.com.)