Never Forgotten

mom cartoonWe all have times when we forget things. At my age, we call them “senior moments.” I like to say that I have a photographic memory. The thing is, most of the time I forget to take the lens cap off. And my husband Bert? Poor thing, sometimes he forgets my birthday, our anniversary, and who’s boss.

I wonder if we sometimes think God has forgotten us. Anytime we feel far away from God, we’re the ones who have moved, not God. Maybe we haven’t gone years without thinking of God, but have we gone months or weeks without acknowledging him or praying? Robert Robinson wrote these words to a hymn in 1758, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”[1] Why would we do that? I don’t know, yet some of us have. We’re especially prone to setting God aside in our lives when things are going well. Then we come back to him when hard times hit.

God has lovingly provided words we can use when we want to cry out to him for help. These verses are from Psalm 25:6-7(NLT). “Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth (I add “and my old age” here). Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.” After our cry for help comes confession of sin, asking for forgiveness, and hopefully a new commitment to stay close to God even in the good times.

We may forget God, but rest assured, he doesn’t forget us. Not ever. When the Israelites declared that the Lord had forgotten them, he answered, “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But, even if that were possible, I would not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NLT). One version of the Bible goes on to say, “Your name is “tattooed” on my hand.” That means that nothing is going to wash it away.

The Bible is full of affirmations of God’s love for us. The greatest, of course, is that Jesus died for our sins. He gave his life for us so that we may follow him while we’re on earth and have life in heaven with him hereafter. When my children were young, I’d ask them, “How much do you love me?” They would open their arms wide and say, “I love you this much.” Christ opened his arms wide on the cross saying, “I love you this much.” Can we imagine that picture? Do we see our names on his hands? If we’ve come to trust Christ and accepted him as Lord and Savior, our names are there, tattooed forever. He doesn’t forget us, even when we ignore him.

If I open my arms wide and say, “Come on!” to my grandson, he runs to me for love, security, and comfort. I intend to do some running into God’s arms today, for I am prone to wander from him and to forget so easily all he has done. Won’t you run there with me?

Let’s remember him. He never forgets us. He loves us this much! And he says, “Come on.”

[1] “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson, 1758.

Two More Hymns

singing stained glass unsplashed

As the final installment of this hymn sing, I’ll share two hymns, only one of which was familiar to me until recently. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, written by Isaac Watts in 1707, is the first known hymn to be written in the first person, describing an individual’s spiritual experience. According to cyberhymnal.org, “Charles Wesley reportedly said he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one.”

You can listen to Christ Tomlin’s version here.

When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all. 

For All the Saints was written by Anglican Bishop William Walsham. It speaks of faith, of trusting God even in troubled times, and of our hope of heaven. ‘Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what every post in this blog is about, and so this is a fitting way to close this tiny taste of hymn singing.”

Listen here.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;

Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,

Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

And there you have it. Won’t you respond by posting a list of your favorite hymns?

Silence Is Not Golden

silence monkey

An earlier blog of mine extols the wisdom of Thumper. In essence, that cartoon cottontail said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep quiet.” Taken to the extreme, though, that word of advice can do terrible damage. So here’s another thought: never stop talking.

I know of siblings who refuse to speak to one another, spouses who have gone days without a word, and friendships that have nearly slipped away as resentment dissolved into silence. I’ve fallen into that trap myself and nearly lost a now precious relationship. At first, we may be tempted to count our quiet resolve as a noble response to injustice. Yet a refusal to speak says far more than any words. What it says can be, whether intentional or not, very cruel. “I hate you. I hope that my silence is causing you pain. I no longer value you. I want to pretend you do not exist.”

Silence gone longer becomes so much stronger. The initial wound that causes a rift may fade over the years, but by then the tear in the fabric of friendship or family tie may gape so wide that neither party knows how to mend it. Never stop talking.

Forgiveness is easier earlier. No, it’s not easy, just easier. And it’s demanded by our Lord. We do not have the right to resent. We have been forgiven, and we are commanded to forgive. When our children are small, we teach them the process of apology and forgiveness. “Susie, say ‘I’m sorry.’ Now, Sally, say, ‘I forgive you.’” But the two are not inextricably linked. We can apologize even if we fear that our apology will be met with a refusal to forgive. And we can—we must—forgive, even when an apology never comes. It doesn’t matter who “started it.”

I took a break from writing just now to do a bit of my Bible reading for the day. My passage was 1 Peter 2, which, perhaps not so surprisingly, speaks volumes on this issue. I’ve pasted a portion of it below, setting in bold type the phrases I found most convicting. Never stop talking is simply one of a thousand corollaries to this far more important directive: never stop forgiving.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good…But now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us…

 Show proper respect to everyoneFor it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God…Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 

The Right Kind of Altar

altar-187941_640By Beth Smith

In the Old Testament, the Israelites built altars where they made sacrifices. Often these altars were memorials to encounters with the Lord.

  • In Genesis 12, when God rewarded Abram’s obedience and gave him land, Abram built an altar.
  • In Genesis 26, when God spoke to Isaac saying, “Fear not, for I am with you,” Isaac built an altar.
  • In Exodus 17, after a great victory, Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord is my banner.” It was a reminder that God had given them victory.

You and I can follow the example of Abram, Isaac and Moses by building altars in our hearts and minds to remind us of the times God has demonstrated his love for us.

Sometimes, though, before those Israelites could build an altar, they had to tear down altars that had been built to false gods. Hmmm! During my lifetime I’ve built a few altars to false gods. What about you? Have we worshipped money, recognition, family, self? If so, we have our work cut out for us, because God says, “You shall have no other God before or beside me.”

And then there’s the issue of forgiveness. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Oh my! This is so important and so hard! We need to seek forgiveness from those we have hurt or offended and forgive those who have hurt or offended us. I think doing those two things helps clean out our pipeline of worship – making a clear way for our prayers to God. If our prayers seem to “stop at the ceiling”, we probably have some forgiving to do and some apologies to make.

And what about sacrifice? In the Old Testament, animals were killed and offered as sacrifices on the altar for forgiveness of sin. Jesus is the final sacrifice for sin. That work is finished. However, there are still sacrifices we can make. Hebrews 13: 15-16 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise…And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

And so, when it comes to altars, we have a “to do” list:

  • Tear down those altars where we worship anyone or anything other than God.
  • Build altars in our hearts and minds to remind us of the great things God has done.
  • Forgive others and ask for forgiveness.
  • Make our sacrifices of prayer, praise, good deeds and sharing.

If we do these things — you know what? We’re going to be pleasing to God!

The Gift Exchange (Guest Blogger: Beth Smith)

gift

Have you ever felt ripped off after one of those Christmas party gift exchanges? Maybe you spent more than you should have for something really special, but ended up going home with something really dumb – like a jeweled gravy ladle or an old DVD of a B-grade movie. If this has been your experience, I have great news for you. You’ve been invited to a holy gift exchange, and you’re going to come out ahead.

John 3:16 describes the trade. “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost, but should have eternal life” (J.B. Phillips New Testament). Nice Exchange! We give ourselves – our old, rotten, headed-for-destruction selves – to God through our belief in him, and he gives us eternal life. Better yet, he’s not going to change His mind and ask for his gifts back after he gets us and sees what a mess we are. “For God’s gift and His call are irrevocable. He never withdraws them once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.” (Romans 11:29 Amplified Bible).

We sometimes get a Santa complex. Be good so you will get a gift. If you aren’t good, you won’t get anything. Fortunately, that’s not how things work in the spiritual realm. Ephesians 2:8 (Amplified Bible) says, “For it is by free grace [God’s undeserved favor to us] that you are saved through faith. And this salvation is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving] but it is the gift of God.” We can’t be good enough. If we could, Christ wouldn’t have had to die to save us. The gift is free, because we don’t have anything of value to exchange.

The Bible is full of other great gift exchanges. Isaiah 40:29 tells us that, “He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak.” We bring weakness and weariness and go home with strength and power.

Titus 2:14 proclaims that Christ, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” We bring sin – even those stinky ones that no one knows about – and go home with purity and enthusiasm to do good things because Christ gave his life. And Isaiah, Chapter 61 lists all sorts of great exchanges we are offered by God.

How blessed we are to have a God who doesn’t bargain, who offers us such bounty and who loves us so deeply! We always come out ahead when we offer ourselves to him!

 

Cussing and Fighting

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They were traveling as a couple. There’s no telling what ignited the blazing war of words between them, but he was mean. (To be fair, I couldn’t understand much of what she had to say.) His steady stream of vitriol went on and on as those of us already buckled into nearby seats for the flight to Montreal prayed it wouldn’t escalate into fisticuffs.

As I listened, unavoidably, my heart ached and my thoughts turned to the man beside me. He has been beside me for years now, decades in fact, and has never raised his voice at me or directed swearing hatefulness my way. Ephesians five tells husbands to love their wives. This can be accomplished by the grace of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit. (And of course, we ladies, while tasked with giving respect, are surely meant to love our husbands as well.)

Most of the time, that’s easy. Some of the time, those closest to us make us hopping mad. Ken Werlein of Faithbridge church, recently preached on anger; (The whole sermon is available here: http://faithbridge.org/sermons/wisdom-for-life/anger ) He made this obvious, but easily forgotten, point:

No matter what someone does to provoke us, we have done the same and more to provoke the wrath of God. Yet God forgives us and offers us his forgiveness, his love and his kindness every single day. Thus, even when we find no earthly reason to offer grace to a fellow human being, we have a wealth of heavenly reasons to do so.

And so today, as Valentine’s Day approaches, let me encourage you to let your words and tone convey a small portion of the love God gives us despite our faults.

May we all be, as James 1:19 says, “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”