Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

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Now and then, when I was a teenager back at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, I was given the honor of turning down the lights in the sanctuary just as the congregation got to the last line of this great hymn. Picture this: The pews are filled at the Sunday night service. It’s dark outside, but bright inside, as the final hymn begins. Then the lights go down just as all in attendance sing, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” The backlit cross at the front of the church now stands out in stark focus as a hush falls over the room. A little dramatic? Maybe, except that I still see that cross in my mind’s eye and feel that hush in my heart, often just when I’m about to forget about God’s glory and grace.

We can’t dim the lights on the rest of life as easily as I could turn that rheostat back then. Would that we could! Maybe instead, we need to shine greater light on the glory and grace that surrounds us. He is everything. Our full supply. That’s what Helen Lemmel was trying to convey when she penned these lyrics.

O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Are you, like so many of us, troubled by “the things of earth” today? Is your heavenly vision a bit blurred? Take a breath. Take a moment. Remember whose you are and who He is. Enjoy the right you have as a child of God to fellowship with the Creator of the universe. And let those things that trouble you fade in the light of his glory, with the realization that, while you may not be able to see how right now, his grace is and always will be enough.

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What a Mighty God We Serve!

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I used to have quite a collection of cassette tapes. (Remember those?) They made the days of running countless errands (before Amazon!) more entertaining for me and for my kids. I can still hear the perky kids’ tunes in my memory. One of the verses playing in my head this morning is an African folk song possibly recorded first by Hezekiah Walker. It goes like this:

  • What a mighty God we serve!
  • What a mighty God we serve!
  • Angels bow before him.
  • Heaven and earth adore him.
  • What a mighty God we serve!

It’s a good reminder, don’t you think? Sometimes the day ahead of us looks too big, too challenging, and we shrink back a bit as it begins. We need not, because we are facing it with a mighty God!

You know by now that I love the works of Hannah Whitall Smith. In The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, she lists a dozen Bible based reminders of how mighty our God is, how very much he cares about us, and how his might and care affect our daily lives:

  • Not a sparrow falls to the ground outside of his care.
  • The very hairs of our head are numbered.
  • We’re commanded to cease all worry, because our Father cares for us.
  • We’re not to avenge ourselves, because our Father will defend us.
  • We have no reason to fear, for God is on our side.
  • No one can be against us, because he is for us.
  • We lack nothing, because he is our Shepherd.
  • He shuts the mouths of lions, quenches flames, delivers us and rescues us.
  • Kings and rulers come and go according to his will.
  • He rules the wind and waves.
  • He thwarts the plans of nations.
  • He does whatever pleases him in the heavens and on the earth.

I hope you are facing only pleasant things today. But if, like most of us, you will meet challenges before the evening comes, be encouraged. Let your heart cry out before every difficulty, “What a mighty God we serve!”

(And if you’d like to be reminded of that fact by a choir of children’s voices, check out Cedarmont Kids here.)

 

 

Relinquishment and Surprise

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Catherine Marshall wrote about relinquishing our desires through prayer. You can read more about my experience with that prayer here or order her terrific book on prayer here.

Change invariably demands some degree of relinquishment, and so I find myself in another chapter of that challenge. Am I happy to be living in a new city? You bet. Do I question the rather monumental changes Steve and I have made in the last several months? Not at all. But our enemy always seeks to rob us of our joy and of the best God has for us by convincing us to reject the challenge of change. Perhaps that’s the reason he warned Lot and his family not to look back as they fled to the mountains. (Or, for you Star Wars fans, it’s probably why Shmi instructed Anakin with the simple words, “Don’t look back.”)

  • When we cling desperately to the old, we are not free to embrace the new.
  • When we pray with the attitude of a demanding child, we are out of line and rarely at peace.
  • When we relinquish our own agendas, we are able to accept the times when God says “no” or wait” or “this instead.” Then, trusting his grace, we are ready to be delighted by the gifts he gives and the plans he sets out for us.

We can pray in faith and, at the same time, be willing for God in his wisdom to refuse our requests. Then, when God does say yes, that gift is all the sweeter.

Relinquishment to God’s will certainly doesn’t cause us to stop praying. On the contrary, as we become closer to our Lord, every circumstance is wrapped in prayer as we express our needs and look for his provision. There are miracles to be found in the mundane affairs of daily life if we will only watch for them. More about that next week. In the meantime, look forward! Let go of anything you feel the Holy Spirit is asking you to relinquish. And may that choice give you rest!

Time to Be Happy

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When you say “Happy New Year!” do you mean it? I do. I believe in being happy.

  • My favorite book is “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.”
  • My favorite verse is “May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful” (Psalm 68:3).
  • And my favorite slogan? “Don’t worry. Be happy.” (More about that here.)

I’m not talking about “pie in the sky, life’s a bowl of cherries” happiness, of course. I love these lines from a hymn by John Sammis: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” If we could truly trust God and obey his instructions all the time, I think we would be happy.

Late last year Time Magazine published a special volume called “The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life.”[1] As I read it, I was struck by how many times their reports on the science of happiness lined up with Biblical instruction. And so, over the next few weeks, pulling from Time and God’s Word, I hope to get us started on a happy year.

January is the time when many of us resolve to take better care of ourselves. We start diets, join gyms, and put Post-its on our mirrors to remind us of newly made promises. This verse has me convinced that self-care is ordained by God: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God…  So you must honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).

Time suggests there’s a relationship between happiness and health, due most likely to the tendency of happier people to make healthier choices. This raises a “chicken or the egg” question. Does health lead to happiness, or does happiness promote health? Time asserts that, while our propensity for happiness is 50% inherited and 10% circumstantial, the other 40% is based on choices we make. Why not make the happiest choices whenever possible? Their list of “Healthy Habits for Happiness” include… Wait. Before I get into that, I’d like to ask you to tell me what tops your list of Healthy Habits for Happiness. I’ll tell you what the scientists had to say next week.

[1] The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life, A Time Special Edition, September 9, 2017.

Shrek the Sheep

 

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You’ve probably seen the movies, may even have read the book, but have you heard about the sheep? Yes, Shrek is also the name of a famous sheep…on the other side of the world…New Zealand, to be exact, where the sheep population outnumbers the humans six to one.

We can safely assume that New Zealand shepherds are far smarter than their sheep. Thus, their sheep are best off cooperating with the one in charge. However, in the late 1990’s, Shrek the Renegade Sheep thought he had a better idea. Shrek decided he no longer wanted to be shorn. This was a foolish decision on the part of the renegade.

  • Long fleece can lead to overheating, limited mobility, and even disease.
  • Shearing also keeps older dirty wool from contaminating new growth.

Evidently none of that mattered to Shrek or, more likely, he simply wanted his own way and didn’t know any better. Big mistake! Want to know how big? Take a look at this photo. This is Shrek after hiding in caves, successfully avoiding six years of annual shearing.

Now, I ask you, does that look like a happy, healthy animal? When he was finally caught and shorn, the wool removed weight 60 pounds, enough to make 20 large men’s suits. Talk about carrying around extra baggage!

Are we ever Shrek-like? You bet.

  • When the Shepherd is ready to remove what we no longer need, or might even do us harm, how often do we balk, hide, or refuse to our own detriment?
  • When have we tried to hold on to what keeps us from healthy spiritual growth?

Surely we are always better off trusting the wisdom of our Shepherd, fully cooperating with the One in charge.

The next time I’m tempted to balk at what God is asking, I’m going to remember Shrek the Renegade, no make that, Miserable Looking Sheep and choose the Shepherd’s way over my own.

 

 

Corrie

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Corrie ten Boom.

I hope you know that name. Already an older woman when World War II began, she and her family risked their lives to provide refuge for Jews, hiding some of them in a closet-sized room when the Nazi’s raided their home. I grew up reading The Hiding Place, then watching the movie that carried the same title, then re-reading the book as an adult. Her account of the many ways God worked before, during, and after her stay in a concentration camp inspired me, spurring me on to greater faith in the Lord who loves us.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Today I headed to the gym, Kindle Fire in hand. I know I need to work out, but I don’t like to work out. Watching videos as I sweat on a treadmill makes it all more tolerable. Today, thank you Amazon Prime, I came across Corrie ten Boom: A Faith Undefeated.

I had been listening to the radio as I drove to our neighborhood fitness center. It proclaimed all the awful possibilities facing us now and threatening us in the days to come. Some of those threats are very real. Even now hardship abounds at home and abroad. I was saddened. Then I began to listen to Corrie. I’m keeping this blog short in hopes that you’ll click on that link and watch a bit of the film that documents her story. Spoiler alert, though, here is the closing quote:

Look around and be distressed.

Look within and be depressed.

Look at Jesus…and be at rest.

May you be at rest this week!