Brownies and a Dime (or A Little Bit of Sin) by Beth Smith

Brownies Michelle Tsang via unsplash.comI love this story about “a little bit of sin.” Two teenagers wanted to see the latest movie, one their father was quite sure was inappropriate.

“There’s only a little bad language in it,” they pleaded. “There’s almost no violence, and, while they talk about sex, you never see any on screen.” The father was adamant. The teens were upset. Eyes were rolling. Grumbles were rumbling.

But this was a very creative dad who loved his children and wanted to make a point. He headed to the kitchen to bake a batch of brownies. The house was filled with the tantalizing aroma of the coming chocolate treat. The teens soon made their way to the kitchen, begging for brownies.

“Help yourself!” the father said, “But before you dig in, you should know that I added just a little bit of dog poop to the recipe. There’s not much. You won’t be able to see it. I’m pretty sure you won’t even taste it. It probably won’t hurt you a bit.  So go ahead. Have all you’d like.”[1]

They got the point. That’s the way sin is in our lives. It doesn’t matter how much or how little, it’s still there.

First John 1:10 says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him (God) out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” Fine! But how about those of us who have really messed up? Some of us have had this thought, “I’ve done so much wrong, really evil stuff. I know I’m beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness.” Not true! Those who are forgiven much love him all the more. None of us are beyond His forgiveness. We’re like the lost coin in the parable that Jesus told. Let me recount it for you.

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and carefully search until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15: 8-10 NIV).

The lost coin in this scripture was a silver drachma. It was probably only about the size of a dime, but it was worth about a day’s wages. It was worth the search! And we’re worth the search. If we’re feeling lost, either eternally or temporarily, we can be sure that God desires to find us and to help us find him. He searches for us and joyfully receives us.

Next time you see a dime, let it remind you to cry out, “Here am I, Lord. You’ve found me.”

 

Photo by Michelle Tsang via unsplash.com

[1] http://www.snopes.com/glurge/brownies.asp , accessed 6/2/2015 reported that, “Our earliest sighting of this item comes from a August 2001 web site posting, and it has since appeared in at least one gook. However, even in its earliest incarnation the author was not identified, which makes it difficult to determine whether the story is a true account or a work of fiction.”  This author found it uncredited on several websites.

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A Level Praying Field by Beth Smith

playing field Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com
We’re all a lot more alike than we realize. For example, does your mind ever wander in church? Have you ever found yourself singing a praise song while asking yourself one of these questions?
  • What’s for lunch?
  • When is the game starting?
  • Why don’t we ever sing my favorite song?
  • Did I turn off the curling iron? (female)
  • Will there be doughnuts after the service today? (male)

Admit it! We’ve all had a few of those thoughts. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, said he (or she) wondered what it would be like if frogs jumped out of the baptismal bowl. I must admit I’ve never had that thought.

We also all have our differences. Our society tries to compensate for that. Consider the way kids choose up sides for a game. The best players get chosen first for each team in order to even up the talent. (Almost everyone I know claims to have felt the pain of being the last one chosen. I certainly have.)

We might also think there’s a spiritual playing field—a “Praying Field” run by God. (Maybe we fear we’ll be the last one chosen there as well.) Not true! God’s children are all of equal value in his eyes.

For God so loved the world…that whoever believes…” (John 3:16 NIV). We all receive his love. We are all “whoevers.”

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).  When we come to Him, when we accept his love, we all receive the same forgiveness and mercy.

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). Somehow we fall into two ways of thinking about God’s ability and willingness to forgive us. We consider ourselves either too good to truly need it, or so bad that it couldn’t possibly work.

Listen! Sin is sin. We can’t enter into heaven with a single bit of it. We all need forgiveness. We’re on a level field. God offers all of us the same love and the same forgiveness. God equally desires each of us to be His own. As you go about your day today, I hope you’ll make a point of accepting God’s love and forgiveness and sharing it with those around you as well.

Photo by Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com

Father Knows Best by Beth Smith

 
photo-1526541588356-01de54d1ea1b candy raw pixel @rawpixel via Unsplash.com

John had been out of work for nearly a year, and times were tough. One day, though, he decided to take his little daughter Sarah out for a rare treat—candy from a convenience store. Sarah, being much smaller than her very tall father, began to look with great delight at the brightly colored, cheap candy displayed on the lower shelves, candy was so cheap it didn’t even qualify as a splurge.

John said, “No, Sarah, look up here. There’s the really good candy. You can choose anything, not just what’s down there.” But, sure of what she wanted, Sarah picked some bright red balls of candy. Loving father that he is, John said, “Sarah, those are sour balls, very sour. I know you, and you won’t like them. Look, here’s a Snickers, a Nestle Crunch bar.” But Sarah would have nothing to do with that. She saw only what was right in front of her, at her own eye level. It wasn’t the best she could have, and was nowhere near what her father wanted to give her.

John told me he was disappointed that his desire to give Sarah something special, something big, went unfulfilled. He went on to say that God used the experience to reveal to him that he, John, often made the same mistake that Sarah did. He was making some poor choices because he could see the situation only at his eye level, while his heavenly Father saw the whole picture. Don’t we all do that?

Our Father sees what’s best for us better than we can. We’re limited by our own “short sightedness.”  Unable to see the top shelf, we choose a lollipop over a king sized Snickers bar.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).

Our Father knows what will fulfill us, because he created us. He knows what will really make us happy, better than we know ourselves. We might choose red sourballs because they look good, instead of letting God give us the desires he has created in our hearts. He puts his desires there. Note our part in this scripture:

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4 NIV).

Do we take away God’s joy in giving to us because we want to do it ourselves, our own way?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT).

What if, today, Jesus asked us the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” We’re human. We’d say we want a job, healing, the return of a wayward child, a house or maybe a new way of life.

Wait. Stop. Think. Jesus knows our needs. We can tell him what we think we need, but then we ought to tell him, “Whatever you think is best. Your will be done.”

We can let God choose for us only if we trust his love and his wisdom, and believe in his power. If we want God’s best, we must let him choose.

 

photo by raw pixel @rawpixel via Unsplash.com

Kicked Forward by Beth Smith

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We all have troubles in our lives, but take a look at the life of the Apostle Paul:

  1. Given thirty-nine lashes five different times
  2. Beaten with rods on three occasions
  3. Stoned once
  4. Shipwrecked three times
  5. Adrift on the open sea for a whole night and a day
  6. Exposed to danger from flooded rivers, robbers and those who hated him
  7. Imprisoned
  8. Denied needed sleep
  9. Plagued by hunger and thirst
  10. Cold because he lacked proper clothing

Pretty horrible, right? Yet here was Paul’s response:

I have strength for all things in Christ who empowers me. (I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses inner strength into me. I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency)” (Philippians 4:13 AMP).

If Paul had quit, had lost his faith in God’s power because of his difficulties, we would be missing ten books of the New Testament. But Paul knew a secret about his strength. He had a “thorn in the flesh.” No one knows for sure what it was. He begged God to take it away, but God’s response was, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Then Paul said, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

We all have problems, and plenty of weaknesses, but we can be strong in the Lord. God never tells us to do something without giving us the power to do it. And he uses our hard times.

  • Four of Paul’s letters were written when Paul was a prisoner in Rome.
  • Martin Luther translated the Bible while forced to hide in a German castle.
  • John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison in Belford, England.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote monumental Christian literature from a concentration camp.

What might God do with us if we use our misfortunes to draw close to him?

Dr. E. Stanley Jones wrote this about the Apostle Paul: “If Satan was to kick him, then Paul would determine the direction in which the blows would take him—forward!”

It’s during the difficult times of life that we get kicked forward. Those are the times we draw closer to God.

When Paul wrote that he had the strength for all things through Christ, he was in prison. Still he knew that God was using him and empowering him. Nothing can happen to us that won’t “kick us forward,” if we are determined to depend on and trust in our loving, heavenly Father. I can just see us as making the devil cringe when we say, “Go ahead! Make my day! Kick me forward!”

 

Photo by Jason Briscoe @Unsplash

 

 

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.

 

Heavenly (by Beth Smith)

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Lots of things are described as “heavenly.” Some years ago Chock full o’Nuts was advertised as the heavenly coffee. There’s Angel Soft bathroom tissue, and there’s even a candy called Heavenly Hash. (Although I happen to think all varieties of chocolate are pretty heavenly.) Today I want you to tell you about Biblical truths regarding the heavens.

Genesis 1:1 illustrates the first truth. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  That’s pretty clear. God made the heavens.

Psalm 89:11 declares, “The heavens are yours, O Lord, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.” So we have no doubt about the owner and founder of the universe.

Then here is Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT), “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.” The heavens do not say, “Isn’t nature wonderful?” Instead, they declare, “How glorious is our God!” What God has created should lead us to believe in the Creator.

We have a place in heaven. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Jesus said that he has prepared a place for us. Believe me, it isn’t a little cabin tucked into a remote corner of eternity. Jesus said his Father’s house has many mansions, and that’s where we will have our eternal home.

We have someone in heaven pleading our case for us, interceding for us. “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself…Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of highest honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Romans 8:33-34). Isn’t that so very comforting? We know how weak and unclear our prayers can be, but we know that Jesus explains us to the Father and speaks on our behalf.

Heaven is where we should heap up our treasures. They include the first and best of everything we have: our time, our talents, and our money. “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). When we give much to the Lord, we are investing in eternity.

God made the heavens. They belong to him and declare his glory. We have the assurance of our Father that a home is waiting for us there, and we can store up treasure ahead of our arrival.  Now, isn’t that heavenly?