“What If?” to “Even if!”

Even if I don’t get well…  Even if I fail…  Even if someone hurts me… Even if…

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

Last week I wrote to encourage you to trust in the face of tragedy. Today, I want to back those words up with the Bible.

  • 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. Fearlessness is not a matter of mental determination. It’s a matter of prayer first and obedience second. First, we make every worry a topic of our prayers because Philippians 4 tells us to. Then we begin to change the thought patterns that cultivate fear. 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.

Photo credit: Adam Wilson @fourcolourblack via Unsplash.com

Stirring Spoons by Beth Smith (My Mom)

When you simmer stew, if you don’t stir the pot, food can stick to the bottom and ruin the dish. Stirring also lets you check on what’s in the pot, culling anything that doesn’t belong.

  • Oops! That carrot got too brown. It must have stuck to the bottom.
  • Too much flour. Look at those lumps! Out they come.
  • My goodness! What’s that tomato stem doing in there?

God often stirs us to keep us from sinking down to, and sticking at, our lowest level. Or he may allow us to be stirred in order to remove what doesn’t belong.

What does God uses as stirring spoons? People and circumstances. A stirring may go like this, in your head, that is:

  • “If she asks me one more time to clean the garage, I’m going to throw something.” What’s in that pot? Anger?
  • “If he doesn’t clean that garage, I’m not going to cook for a week. He’ll starve.” (Hmmm, is that a little revenge floating to the top?)

Try to find what’s being stirred to the surface in the life of this fictional lady:   

“I’m never early, never late. Jane always admires my perfect timing when I pick her up. Ugh! I told those kids to bring in their bikes. I’ll be late now because I have to do it. I’m going to ground them for a week.

“Hi, Jane. Get in the car. No, I’m not late. You must have come out early. Well, good grief! Look at that stupid, careless driver! He didn’t stop at that stop sign, and look at him on his cell phone, thinks he’s so important. Humph! Where’s a cop when you need one? Well, if we just had a good governor, things would be different. Man! Politicians! Lazy bunch of no good…I hate that guy on the City Council, you know the one who…”

Stir. Stir. Stir! What came to the surface, provoked by nearby people and circumstances? Impatience, judgmental attitude, meanness, self-righteousness, pride, covetousness, anger?  We surely don’t want those stuck in us. So…

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV) says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

Romans 8:28-29 (NIV) tells us, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” God uses stirring spoons, often those irritating people and circumstances to show us our weaknesses and to help us become more like him.

What do we do? Here’s a hefty starter list:

  • Thank God for whoever or whatever brought a sinful reaction to the surface. (We have to see it before we can get rid of it.)
  • Ask God to bless the person he used.
  • Give the reaction to Jesus with open honesty. Hatred, self-righteousness, pride…there’s no need to disguise it or analyze it. Just acknowledge that Jesus died for that sin.
  • Repent, be truly sorry, and desire to change.
  • Ask God to replace what the stirring spoon revealed with the fruit of his Holy Spirit.

This week when a stirring spoon comes along, let’s all follow those steps and rejoice that we aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pot. We’re getting rid of a lot of junk. God is working on us for our good, and that’s worth the stirring.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Practical Proverbs Part 2

The practical, although challenging, advice given in the book of Proverbs is worthy of careful study. Here’s the rest of my abbreviated list of what God is asking us to do with his help.

Be financially wise.

“Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow” (13:11).

“Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness.” One version says, “Have the wisdom to show restraint.” (23:4).

“The greedy bring ruin to their households, but the one who hates bribes will live” (15:27).

Choose friends wisely.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (13:20).

“A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much” (20:19).

Discipline your kids.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (13:24).

“Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death” (19:18).

A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother…Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire” (29:15,17).

Be willing to give and receive godly counsel.

Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue” (28:23).

“A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence” (15:5).

Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding” (15:31-32).

Overlook offense. Control your temper.

Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (17:9).

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (19:11).

“It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (20:3).

Be self-controlled.

Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (23:20-21).

If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit” (25:16).

Appreciate your wife.

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (18:22).

Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (19:14).

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies” (31:10).

Whew! That’s plenty for me to work on! How about you? Which one do you find the most challenging?

Of course, I didn’t cover everything the book of Proverbs has to say. ‘Hope you’ll spend some time reading it on your own in the coming weeks, and that you’ll share your discoveries with me.

Practicality

If you tend to stick to reading the New Testament, then you’re missing out on a lot of help in life. Let me encourage you to read through the book of Proverbs (maybe several times.) You’ll be blown away by its practicality. It’s a virtual feast (see, now the photo fits) of good advice! Here’s a sampling. (Since every quote is taken from the book of Proverbs, I’ve only listed the chapter and verse for each one.)

Pay attention to what God says.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (3:5-6).

To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (21:3).

“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (30:5).

Guard your heart.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (4:23).

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (14:30).

Watch your mouth. (This starts with guarding your heart.)

The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent,and their lips promote instruction” (16:23).

Keep your mouth free of perversity;  keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (4:24).

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (18:21).

Don’t be lazy.

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (6:10-11).

Be humble.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (11:2).

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18).

Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor” (29:23).

Be kind.

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth. Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves” (11:16-17).

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done” (19:17).

“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (22:9).

Easy to do? Maybe not, but these words of wisdom are so important and, clearly, what God is asking us to do, with the help of the Holy Spirit. (‘Cause we’ll all fail miserably on our own.) Next week I’ll give you the verses that talk about financial wisdom, choosing friends, raising kids, handling rebuke, becoming self-controlled, and appreciating your wife (!).  Stay tuned! And have a great week.

The Greatest Valentine by Beth Smith (My Mom!)

Happy Valentine’s Day! (Almost)

Please remember that God sent us the greatest Valentine, Jesus Christ, because he loves us so much. 1 John 4:15-16 (NIV) says, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” Love is his nature. It would be terrible to have to strive constantly to make God love us, trying to do enough to be acceptable to him, to be loved by him. That’s not the case! We can rely on his love for us, even though we don’t deserve it.

Romans 8 promises us that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from his love.God is love. His love is eternal. And he has asked us to love each other.

We can love in thought: If we dwell on someone’s faults or shortcomings, we’ll have a mighty hard time showing them love. It’s better to believe the best of every person.Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person” (1 Corinthians 13:7 AMP). And since, thankfully, God doesn’t keep a list of our offenses, we aren’t to keep a list either.

We can love in word: After we practice thinking good things about others, it’s time to speak those good things, those words of love and encouragement. “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24 NLT). The old kid’s chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a lie. Most of us remember some sort of terrible thing said to us in childhood that still hurts. God wants us to love with our words.

We can love in deed: Once we’re thinking and speaking love, it’s easier to show our love and the love of God in what we do. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18 NIV). For each of us the action we take will be different, but here are a few suggestions.

  • Forgive someone. (God has forgiven us, and we need to do the same.)
  • Show real kindness. (We have the power to be kind to others.)
  • Do for others. (Call a friend, do a chore that isn’t yours, or meet a need even if it’s inconvenient.)
  • Be generous with your compliments.

We need to be extravagant with our love toward others, because God has been extravagant with his love toward us. Let’s do it! Let’s start today.

Chocolate or… By Beth Smith (my mom!!)

I’m partial to chocolate. Not fancy stuff. Just the good ol’ grocery store variety. But I want to love God’s Word more than chocolate, to “eat” it more often than anything else.

Here’s how I want to feel about God’s Word.

  • I have esteemed and treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12 AMP).
  •  “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103 AMP).

Why is it so hard to make God’s Word a priority in our daily lives?

  •  We decide, “Yes, I’m going to read the Bible. I’m setting aside a special time for study.” The time comes, and we’re ready. Then the phone rings, a neighbor drops in, maybe the toilet overflows… I think that’s the Devil, the one C.S. Lewis called ‘ol Slewfoot.
  • We read the Word, and we remember what we read. Then a problem comes up, or we argue with our spouse. Whatever we read that very morning flies out of our minds, anger or worry taking its place. That’s our sinful self getting in the way, or maybe ‘ol Slewfoot again.

We could all come up with plenty of examples, times when “eating the Word” can be a struggle. Being a Christian isn’t for sissies! It’s a battle. It’s a good fight of faith. We need to recognize the tricks of the Devil, to know our own weaknesses, and to be prepared to defeat them. We can triumph over them, because God is always faithful to make a way for us. And why should we bother?

  •  “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4).
  • If you live in me and My words remain in you and continue to live in your hearts, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you” (John 15:7 AMP).
  •  “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
  • “The word of God is alive and powerful.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).

What we eat physically matters, but eating God’s Word matters so much more. The Word is God’s power for us. We can’t treat the Bible like snack food—a quick bite here, a quick bite there. Reading the Bible without meditating on what we’ve read is like eating without chewing.

Some people say you are what you eat. That’s good news if we’re on a steady diet of the Word of God. Look back at the verses I’ve just listed. Think on them. Meditate. Let’s let the Holy Spirit use them in our lives.