Sometimes I have trouble gleaning life lessons from Old Testament history. Such was not the case last week. Here’s what I read in Isaiah 10:12-15 (emphasis mine.)
“I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says, ‘By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings…’”
To which God responds:
“Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it,
or the saw boast against the one who uses it?
As if a rod were to wield the person who lifts it up,
or a club brandish the one who is not wood!”
In the verses that come next, the wrath of God is described in most disturbing detail, providing a strong warning.
We talk—and write—a whole lot more about what pleases God than about what displeases him, but I was struck by this passage. When we are blessed with goods or accomplishment, success or victory or achievement of any kind, it is always a gift of God, meant to be credited as such. We are only the ax, the saw, the rod, the club. He is the wielder in every case.
I asked, via Facebook, “What one word would you use to describe what life is like right now?” Most of the responses clustered around a half dozen or so general ideas:
“Hard, limited, stalled, confining, constricted, muy difisil”
I’ve been there. I also believe God uses all hard things, even if we can’t see his hand in them right away.
“Expectant, warning, new, challenging, interesting, prophetic, Advent (prayerfully waiting to see what God will do)”
I love this quote from Travis Clark, pastor at Canvas San Francisco: “You typically only know that you were in a defining moment when you look at your life in reverse.” This time, I think we all know that this year is one long defining moment.
“Unpredictable, unknown, confusing, inconsistent, conflicted, confused, bipolar (I particularly liked that one!), paradoxical, chaotic, weird, surreal”
Living in uncertainty pushes many of us toward anxiety or depression. If you’ve read this blog before, though, you know how deeply I believe in the power of prayer and our Lord’s promise that, if we bring our needs to him, we can trade anxiety for peace. Here’s one of my favorite Pastor Matt quotes: “You can freak out about the unknown, but Biblically it does not make sense to” (Matt Werner).
I’m so glad some of you are walking through this time in a positive way. One very smart contributor listed half a dozen words, many of them antonyms of one another, explaining that it depends on how much she listens to the news. One said, “opportunity,” and others posted words that communicate a call to action, like these:
“Motivated, driven” to serve wherever God puts us.
That friend is serving by painting inspirational rocks and secreting them on to neighbor’s porches. This made me wonder, what could I do for a neighbor today?
How is “bored” a call to action? That contributor is fighting boredom by watching at least 2 remote church services every week. We have access to a whole wealth of spiritual growth opportunities. I need to start tapping in more often!
We need a constant river of prayer flowing through our days. One friend used the word “steady,” and I don’t think anything can ground and steady us like consistent prayer. Get alone with God and tell him everything that weighs you down.
Are you tired of all this? Me too. But in a war, the soldiers can’t say, after six months or a year, “I’ve had enough. I’m emptied out. I’m going home.” The book of Lamentations says our Lord’s love, compassion and hope are new every morning. We just have to keep refilling, every day.
One of you simply said, “We’re living.” Yes, we are. Take heart. Embrace each new day. Choose the words from this post that help you the most, and hang on with patience and faith!
Many thanks to all of you who helped me write this week.
Do you remember the old Smith Barney commercial? It said they “made money the old fashioned way—they earned it.” In the world’s system, we often get because we earn. That’s not how God’s kingdom works. It works on the gift system. Our loving, all knowing God knew any attempt to earn our own way into his kingdom was doomed to fail, so he provided another way through Jesus. A daily relationship with God is free for the taking.
Why don’t we all take the free gift? Many times it’s because we don’t want to give up control. We don’t really know God, and we don’t really trust him. We’re afraid of what he might ask us to do.
What if he sends me off somewhere to be a missionary?
What if he doesn’t want me to have my home, my car, my money—my own way?
“No thanks,” we think, “I’ll stay in control.” How’s that working for you? I can tell you it certainly doesn’t work so well for me.
In the book of Haggai, Chapter 1, the people tried to be in control of their lives—building homes, earning a living, and concerning themselves with their own needs. ‘Trouble was God had told them to rebuild his temple, and they were ignoring him. So God said to them, “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough…You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1: 5-6). Then God told them to get going on that temple, to re-focus and change their priorities.
We too need to be about the business of our Lord. Matthew 6:33 tells us to make God’s ways and plans our first concern. Then he’ll take care of our needs. Work for God’s company, his kingdom! The wages are great, and the retirement plan is out of this world.
Paul reminded Timothy (and the rest of us) not to neglect the spiritual gifts he’d been given. They’re gifts from God, and we’re meant to use them to bless others.
Are you a gifted listener? Then listen. So many people need someone to hear them.
Are you a giver? Do it cheerfully.
Are you a good host or hostess? Invite people into your home.
Are you a cook? Take a meal to someone ill or in need.
Are you blessed with time? Pray. Pray for your country, your family, yourself, your friends or the people on the church’s prayer list.
Listen for what God says to do. Write a letter, feed the homeless, care for a child. Who knows what door he will open? God meant it when he said, “Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured back into your lap” (Luke 6:38 NLT).
We’re tempted to think, “There are too many needs. I can’t make a difference.” Some of the nuns working with Mother Teresa were overwhelmed by the needs around them. They came to her and said, “What can we do?”
She answered, “Give them a smile.”
We all have to start somewhere. Share yourself, your faith, your encouragement. God’s gifts to us, and our gifts to others, aren’t earned. They’re given out of love, so that we can pass them on to others in love. And that’s the way God wants it.
We scrambled for hand sanitizer while millions of people across the globe still walked miles to fill buckets with dirty water—the only water they’d have all day.
Clean water, paired with good hygiene and sanitation, are vital to maintaining health all the time, not just during a pandemic. While you and I have no shortage of faucets and toilets and soap, nearly 1 in 10 people still lack acces to the simple blessing of clean water. That’s about twice the population of the US. It’s easy, during this uncertain time in our own lives, to forget the great plight of so many.
In Africa alone, women spend 40 billion hours a year walking to and from a water source, too often a contaminated water source. Disease from dirty water kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.
Yet it takes so little to make a big difference, on average around $35 to give someone access to clean water, reversing the spiral of poverty and disease.
Steve and I support several water ministries. We know the founders and trust them to do a good job of using our donations to meet the needs of those without clean water. I hope you’ll consider taking a look, and possibly joining us in helping them bring clean water and sanitation to those who have never had what we have in such abundance.
For your consideration:
Living Water International was founded by a group of Houston businessmen in 1990. You can register to watch their October 8 (that’s tomorrow!) remote gala HERE.
charity:water was started by Scott Harrison 13 years ago. You can watch a video about their mission HERE or read the founder’s story HERE . (Scroll down to “About the Author” and click “read more”—you won’t regret it.)
The Water Project was started by Peter Chasse in 2006. Peter and I have been conference booth partners, and I’ve recently transferred my water related web domains to him.
Yes, I am a bit of a Star Trek fan. I’ve also developed the somewhat odd habit of looking for spiritual lessons in very secular places. Here’s a good example: In one of the movies (‘sorry, I’m not a big enough fan to know which one) Admiral Pike gives up command of the Enterprise to Captain Kirk. The dialog goes something like this:
Kirk: I relieve you, sir.
Pike: I am relieved.
Pike was then relieved of his duty. And, at the same time, his face showed relief. When we say we are relieved, we generally mean we no longer feel anxious or worried. In another sense, though, being relieved means we have given up control.
And in a spiritual sense, the two are inextricably linked!
If we want to experience relief, to give up our worries and anxieties, then we must allow ourselves to be relieved of our control. We’re called to relinquish our need to be in charge to the only One who actually is in charge—and fully able to do a perfect job of it at that.
If you are looking for relief today, look no further than the words of Star Trek and of our Lord. You are relieved! God has relieved you of any ill-conceived notion that you are in control. He loves you. He will carry you through all things. And at the end, heaven awaits. Today and every day, may you experience great relief!
Why would anyone want to assign such a title to a book? Well, Elisabeth Elliot did just that when she wrote about the life of Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the in early 1900’s. Let me share a few highlights from that book with you, paraphrased for clarity.
First a provocative quote by the author, Elisabeth Elliott: “Could it be that our vision, both physical and spiritual, has been compromised by the compelling images we see on ever-present video screens?” Elisabeth described the hope of an “unbroken walk with God,” a concept garnering great interest during Amy’s time. I wonder how much we seek the same these days. “Dying to self” is a difficult and unpopular proposition, made more so, perhaps, by all the media around us lauding an indulgent life.
Here’s a bit of what Amy had to say on the topic, encouraging those around her to trust the One who takes over when we take the chance to die to self.
Death to self means dead to all one’s natural earthly pains and hopes, dead to all voices, however dear, which would deafen our ear to His.
Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.
“When faced with hardship, our Lord has been so kind about other things that we cannot doubt but that He will care for this too.”
Finally, quoting Bishop Handley Moule in “Thoughts on Christianity” as he defines dying to self: “To displace self from the inner throne, and to enthrone Him: to make not the slightest compromise with the smallest sin. We aim at nothing less than to walk with God all day long…It is possible to cast every care on Him daily, and to be at peace amidst pressure, to see the will of God in everything, to put away all bitterness and clamor and evil speaking, daily and hourly.”
These are deep and challenging thoughts for me, but, as Amy once said, “Becoming dead to self results in being alive to God.”
And that is a very good trade.
*Elizabeth Elliott A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. Revell, 1987.