Day Fifty-Seven: Burden for the Poor

LIVE:  In preparation for this lesson, fast from one meal.  (Use discernment regarding fasting; check with your doctor before doing it.  If you can’t do it for whatever reason, that’s okay.)  When you feel the pangs of hunger, use that discomfort as a catalyst for this devotion.

READ:  Nehemiah 5:6-11  –  Read this slowly.

(6-7) I got really angry when I heard their protest and complaints.  After thinking it over, I called the nobles and officials on the carpet.  I said, “Each one of you is gouging his brother.”

(7-8) Then I called a big meeting to deal with them.  I told them, “We did everything we could to buy back our Jewish brothers who had to sell themselves as slaves to foreigners.  And now you’re selling these same brothers back into debt slavery!  Does that mean that we have to buy them back again?”

They said nothing.  What could they say?

(9) “What you’re doing is wrong.  Is there no fear of God left in you?  Don’t you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you?

(10-11) “I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money.  But this gouging them with interest has to stop.  Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now.  And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”

THINK:  While in Babylonian exile as a cupbearer to a foreign king, Nehemiah has a God-given burden:  to rebuild the ransacked walls of the forgotten city of Jerusalem and, in the process, to restore the hope of his people.  But in the midst of this massive architectural restoration project, the people are being abused by their own countrymen.

Nehemiah’s burden grows larger.  His burden now includes poverty and injustice.  Imagine yourself in Nehemiah’s shoes today.  What does this burden feel like?  Consider your empty stomach and write down how you feel.

PRAY:  Begin praying by listening for God’s heart regarding justice.  Ask him to show you people who need your prayers.  Then ask him to point out when you need to speak up on their behalf, and ask for the courage to actually follow through with it.

One thing I’ve discovered about justice over the course of our situation is that it is seldom swift.  Maybe as swift as possible, but never as swift as we’d like.  Think about it.  Whenever someone has done you wrong, is it ever remedied fast enough?  When the courts get involved, things slow down to a snail’s pace.  Then, evidence or no, the case goes the way the people trying it think it ought to go, or whichever way is going to make the appropriate people look as good as possible, or prevent them from looking horrible.  I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the truth of the matter is:  the truth rarely counts for much.  Except with God.

God commands us to seek justice, to love mercy, to take care of the widows and orphans.  Seems like those commands match up with the burdens of poverty and injustice Nehemiah was feeling.  Sad to think so little has changed over the years.  Jesus talks about how, when we visit the people in prison, or feed people without food, or clothe the naked, we are doing the same to him.  The book of James warns against seeing someone cold and telling them to “Go, in peace, and be filled” without offering them what they need to actually be filled because judgment is without mercy to those who’ve shown no mercy.

As I sit in my hotel room, waiting to leave to go visit my husband who sits in jail, this verse hits home.  I am getting to visit my husband because of the people around me who’ve fed and clothed a widow and her orphaned children.  This is a bit of a stretch, I realize.  My husband is not dead.  My children still have both of their parents.  But considering our source of support has been taken away from us, we resemble a widow and orphans.  I do not wish this position on anyone, really; but the lessons it is teaching are invaluable.  And humbling.

Today, I don’t really need to pray for God to show me who needs my prayers.  I’m about to go to a place full of people I may never know that need prayers, who have families that need prayers.  Though I am not personally in a position to be able to physically or financially help these people, my husband has been doing all he can to help those around him who’ve not received justice from one of the only systems in the world that – supposedly – prides itself on preferring that 100 guilty men would go free than one innocent man would go to prison.

Even so…Dear Heavenly Father, You alone know for what purposes you have placed each one of us here.  If there are people around us that need what we have to offer, please show us.  If “all we can do” is pray for them, let their names be on our lips in prayer as often as we pray.  If you have given us the financial wherewithal to help those folks, give us an urge to do so that we cannot ignore.  If they merely need a listening ear, may we be willing to be inconvenienced enough to give them the time they need.  Relationships are messy and dirty, Lord.  Help us to be willing to get dirty and messy with the people who need it the most, and let us do so without reservation when that’s what you require.       In Jesus Name, I pray, AMEN.

Day Fifty-Six: Reflections on Week 8

I am in Kansas (and sometimes Missouri) visiting my husband.  As I was driving to my hotel yesterday, I was looking at all the perfectly manicured fields of crops.  I was thinking that we’ve come a long way since the days of Little House on the Prayer when one man and a horse would plow a field.  Now we have tractors with GPS designed to make sure that farmers can get the maximum amount of usage out of their fields as possible.  The GPS directs the tractor and the farmer gets to sit in the sometimes-air conditioned cab checking Facebook or Pinterest (that’d be me), while the tractor practically drives itself.  It is a model of efficiency.  Albeit an expensive model.  Any farmer will tell you that the equipment that comes with being a “for-profit” farmer (and I use that term fairly loosely) is quite expensive.  That got me to thinking:  what would I be willing to pay for someone to sit on high and direct my life so that I got the maximum amount of use out of it and precious little wasted space, all my rows would be plowed straight, and all I had to do is sit back and take direction.  It seems it’d be priceless.  Then, it occurred to me:  I already have it.  I just forget to turn it on.

How many times, as Christians, do we – as adopted sons and daughters, having access to all the power given to Christ – forget to appropriate that power as we go about our daily lives.  All we have to do is go to God in prayer.  And yet…we choose to see if we can do it on our own, and wonder why we live so much of our lives frustrated!

Today, as I was on my way to visit my husband, a song came on the radio I’ve never heard before.  It’s called “Say Amen” by a group called Finding Favour (go check out the video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRcvcF_0_9M).  There’s a line in the song:  Anybody here who’s walked through the fire – say Amen.  It’s referencing the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel.

I remember when the ladies in our church did the Precepts Bible Study by Kay Arthur on the book of Daniel.  When we did the chapter that covered this story, my family was still in the early stages of our current ordeal (we had not even been to trial yet).  Anyway…I remember thinking, at that time, that we were sitting in the fire, and I was starting to feel scorched.  HA!  We were getting closer to the furnace, and it was hot.  That’s for certain!  We had not been thrown in yet.

Then, for the first year Rabbit was gone, I thought, for sure, that I was going to be consumed in the flames.  Surely, it was just a matter of time.  But, day after day, I got a little stronger, a little more determined, and started looking around, noticing that I was not burning up.  I was no less mad about being in the fire, or at the insane miscarriage of justice that landed us there, but I was not burning up.  Yeah…it’s hot. I’ve sweated plenty.  But I’ve not been consumed.  My family has not been consumed.  My husband has not been consumed.  Our spirits have not been quenched.  Instead, we have been made to see that hat Satan really wants is to destroy the family.  Our family.  He hates the family.  And he knows that if he can destroy the family then he will have effectively destroyed the church!

This whole time I’ve been thinking that we’ve been making it because we are just too stubborn to quit.  And while I think that’s partially true, it’s not the whole truth.  As my mom once told me, you can break a stubborn horse.  But a strong-spirited horse will never be broken.  It may appear broken for a bit, but it is merely waiting for the chance to break free!

I’ve been using the word surreal to describe how it feels to be walking through this and not feel like I’m falling apart.  That’s not the right word.  Supernatural is a better word.

There are marriages and families falling apart every day, and even more than normal amounts for inmates.  Why should it be that our family has not only NOT fallen apart, but is easily as strong as before in most ways, and EVEN STRONGER in others if not for divine intervention, if not for the Grace and mercy of a Heavenly Father, and His Son standing in the fiery furnace with us?!  It just doesn’t happen?!  It’s just not logical.

Those are just a couple of the things that occurred to me over this last week that I thought I would share with you.

I don’t have all the answers to my own stuff, so I could not dream of giving you answers.  But what I can tell you is who does.  Turn on your GPS, folks.  Let God’s Position System direct you in the path you should go.  Even if it means you end up walking toward and into a fiery furnace.  As the saying goes, “If He leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it.”  But the best thing about God is that He goes before you, preparing the way.  If you are in the furnace, trust that God was there before you, beckoning to you, asking you to endure the refiner’s fire, so that you can come even closer to bearing the image of your Creator.  He wants to burn off all the impurities in you so that He can see His reflection in you!  For that kind of work, He has to be right up there, at the furnace, turning you over and over in his hands, pulling you out, checking on you, looking to see if all the dross has burned off yet.  If not, he’ll put you back.  But not forever.  But…hot or not, He’s still there.

Anyway…that’s all I’ve got for today.  I hope you had a good weekend.  Talk to you tomorrow!

Day Fifty-Four: Open Arms

READ:  Read the passage several times.

2 Chronicles 30:1, 5-9

(1, 5) Then Hezekiah invited all of Israel and Judah, with personal letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, to come to The Temple of God in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to Israel’s God…. And they sent out the invitation from one end of the country to the other, from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north:  “Come and celebrate the Passover to Israel’s God in Jerusalem,”  No one living had ever celebrated it properly.

(6-9) The king gave the orders, and the couriers delivered the invitation from the king and his leaders throughout Israel and Judah.  The invitation read:  “O Israelites!  Come back to God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he can return to you who have survived the predations of the kings of Assyria.  Don’t repeat the sins of your ancestors who turned their backs on God, the God of their ancestors who then brought them to ruin–you can see the ruins all around you.  Don’t be pigheaded as your ancestors were.  Clasp God’s outstretched hand.  Come to his Temple of holy worship, consecrated for all time.  Serve God, your God.  You’ll no longer be in danger of his hot anger.  If you come back to God, your captive relatives and children will be treated compassionately and allowed to come home.  Your God is gracious and kind and won’t snub you–come back and he’ll welcome you with open arms.

THINK:  As you read, listen for a new perspective on the way life is, or the way God is, that stands out to you today.  Perhaps you will notice that God can have dangerously “hot anger,” yet under other circumstances he is tender and open to a people who have walked far away from intimacy with him.  Maybe you’ll be struck by the pigheadedness that kept some Israelites from taking “God’s outstretched hand.”

PRAY:  Study the perspective you’ve absorbed, looking at it from different angles and holding it up against different experiences you’ve hand.  Do you ever fear approaching God because you worry he might snub you?  Have you ever refused grace?  Consider a specific situation.  Then become aware of God’s presence with you.  Tell him what was going on during that time.  How does the God of this passage (offering his “outstretched hand” to the Israelites) compare to your image of God in that situation?

I have frequently worried that God might snub me and, many times, that fear has kept me from approaching him boldly.  It has kept me from feeling like I could hold Him to His word.  The Bible is full of promises.  I know this.  But it’s so much easier to believe that those promises will hold true for others than for me, especially when I’m in the throes of a pity party.  I constantly have to remind myself of the verse that says that God is no respecter of persons.  I know that verse was referring to judgment, but wouldn’t it also extend to his promises.  If His grace is sufficient for you, then it must be sufficient for me too.  If his provision, his timing, his love are always perfect for you, then, they must always be perfect for me, as well.  So then…that means the problem is not God, but me.  Refusing to reach out and grab hold of God’s hand because I fear He will snub me says more about me than it does about him.  It says I have a faith problem.

A friend of mine once gave me an analogy that, I think, fits this situation perfectly.

Imagine there’s a chair in front of you.  Do you ever wonder if the chair is going to hold you up before you sit in it?  If it looks rickety, maybe.  But if it looks new, if it looks sound, you just sit.  You don’t stop and wonder.  That’s faith.  It isn’t faith until you place your bottom on the seat and let it have your full weight.  It’s not faith to think the chair can hold you.  It’s not even faith to know that the manufacturer says it can hold up to 200 pounds.  Faith comes with the sitting and resting on the chair, trusting that it won’t crumble under you and let you fall hard on your backside.

I have to admit:  for a huge chunk of my life, I have not had that kind of faith.  I’ve had the dip-my-toes-in-the-water kind of faith.  Yes, I can swim.  But, yes, I could also drown.  I’ve let fear of drowning keep me from plunging into the depths of this walk of Christianity.  This time 18+ months ago, I was operating on faith.  I took a plunge.  A scary one.  And for the better part of the last 18 months, it has felt like a sat on a chair that gave way underneath my weight.  But I think what I’m finally starting to see is that I had constructed the chair that I tried to sit on.  Jesus was not my foundation.  No…my foundation had been the carefully constructed plan I had made for my life, and that had pretty much worked out the way I thought it would.  Sure, there had been times when all I had to go on was actual faith.  Many times.  What I have discovered over this last year-and-a-half is that those time when I was operating purely on faith in the Lord were times when I was struggling, times when I knew there was no way I could help myself out of the situation I was in.  All I could do was obey God, every day, and pray that He knew what was best for me and that His plan would work itself out.  And it did.  Every.  Single.  Time.  That simple fact is the one thing that has kept me afloat since this whole thing started.  Everything hard I’ve ever had to go through, for which I’ve had nothing to rely on other than God, has worked out just exactly the way it needed to.  And, it was not over one second sooner than it needed to be, and it didn’t last one second longer than He needed it to.

Have I snubbed God’s grace?  Sure.  Who hasn’t?  But the one area where I have not, the one area that I never really realized that grace was active and abundant in my life:  perseverance.  It takes grace to persevere.  There have been many days where, by the end of the day, I was “SO DONE.”  But the grace of God is that tomorrow does not have to be like today.  And I can get up and do what I need to do tomorrow because I need to get up and do it.  I have children at home, watching me.  If I give up, what kind of example will I be setting?  Do they see me low?  Of course.  There have been days when I have told them that I just need a “mental health day” and they have to go to their rooms and I go to mine, and “we” let me recover.  My youngest is not fond of having to spend too much time alone, so this is practically punishment for him.  This means that I have to use a lot of finesse when I am breaking this news to him.  Lots of reassurance that he is NOT in trouble is often needed.  So, I cannot take these days often.  Besides, it feels indulgent.  And not in a good way.  I know, deep down, what I really NEED most on those days is to get up and do something for someone else.  But sometimes, it takes me a little bit to remember that.  So, once I do, I get up, get over myself, and get on with life.  I think that is a measure of grace as well.

So, dear readers, I don’t know where you are in life, right now.  Maybe you are going through a hard time and feel like nothing is making sense and like you are struggling just to make it through the day.  Maybe you are a mom, living for naptime and bedtime because you feel like you are going to go crazy.  Maybe you are a dad just hoping you don’t screw up your kids because you are the man of the house and there is more pressure associated with this job than you ever dreamed.  I have just one prayer for you, just one word of encouragement.

PERSEVERE.

Keep going.  Don’t stop.  God will meet you every single step of the way.  When you find that He isn’t meeting you, or you feel like you haven’t heard from Him in a while, pull back from your “schedule” and see if maybe you haven’t run ahead of God.  He has plenty of grace for the step you are on, but you have to stay on the step He wants you on.  Otherwise, you are just running on your own steam.  And, eventually, you are going to run out of steam altogether.

LIVE:  Close your time today by saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Speak the words aloud very slowly.  Picture the righteous but compassionate God described in this passage, the One who is hearing your prayer now:  “Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are.  Set the world right, do what’s best–as above, so below.  Keep us alive with three square meals.  Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.  Keep up safe from ourselves and the Devil.  You’re in charge!  You can do anything you want!  You’re ablaze with beauty!  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  (Matthew 6:9-13)

I pray you all have a blessed day!  Take care of yourselves.  And remember, God gives us EACH DAY our DAILY BREAD.  We don’t get to keep yesterday’s bread.  And he won’t lend us the bread for tomorrow.  Trust that he has rationed you just enough bread for today because He loves you fully.  Today.  And because He wants you to trust Him for tomorrow’s ration tomorrow, He has set aside for you a ration for tomorrow as well.  He is already there.  He has a place prepared for you.  So, walk today, trusting that today He’s got you covered; and tomorrow, He will too.

Day Fifty-Three: F.R.O.G. – Fully Rely on God

READ:  Read this passage aloud slowly.

2 Chronicles 16:7-9

Just after that, Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said, “Because you went for help to the king of Aram and didn’t ask God for help, you’ve lost a victory over the army of the king of Aram.  Didn’t the Ethiopians and Libyans come against you with superior forces, completely outclassing you with their chariots and cavalry?  But you asked God for help and he gave you victory.  God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.  You were foolish to go for human help when you could have had God’s help.  Now you’re in trouble–one round of war after another.”

THINK:  Read the passage again slowly.  Previously Asa had been a good king.  After hearing convicting prophecy, he “took a deep breath, then rolled up his sleeves, and went to work” cleaning out the temples (15:8).

(1) Which phrase or idea sticks with you?

…that Asa “went for help to the king of Aram and didn’t ask God for help”

…that “God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him”

…that not relying on God results in “one round of war after another”

…other

(2) Why does that idea stick with you?

(3) The theme of this passage could be summed up in the acronym FROG, standing for Fully Rely On God.  Consider your life – for what large or small issues might you FROG that you have not thought of before?  (Don’t use this passage to beat yourself up; that’s not profitable.  Use it instead as a springboard to ask God for guidance.)

The thing that sticks with me in this passage, because I’ve been so guilty of it over the years, it “You were foolish to go for human help when you could have had God’s help.”  There are times when God puts you in the position that you have to go to others for help.  But there are also times when God just wants you to turn to Him.

For instance, there have been times in my marriage when my husband and I have had a plan.  We’ve worked the plan.  Things have gone well.  Then, all of a sudden, someone will come along with an idea that stirs up some of my old insecurities, and I immediately go off-script in an effort to make what we are doing seem less weird to the person I’m talking to.  Once I go off that direction, it can be hard to get me back.  Eventually, I reached a point in my walk with the Lord, that He started letting suggestions and advice from others take their toll on my marriage.  That, in turn, fed into my old insecurities, seeming to justify the fact that I felt that way already.  Things would start going poorly, the insecurity would grow, the plan would go awry, and then, I would have to go to my husband and apologize for not trusting the plan, and then I would have to ask forgiveness from God for not trusting Him.  All of this from trying to please someone other than God.

PRAY:  Thank God that you can fully rely on him.  Admire God for his divine alertness and for how relying on him keeps you out of “trouble – one round of war after another.”  Take your time so that you fully explore your gratitude and admiration.

Abba Father, it is a little embarrassing to admit that what I know of the peace that comes from relying on you far too often has come from having to live through the lack of peace I’ve had from not trusting you.  But, I am thankful that I have that experience to draw off of.  Now, especially.  In a time when I have no idea what in the world to do, and it seems like I’m trying to plan for the future and live day-by-day, both at the same time, and not knowing how in the world that is supposed to look, all I can do is take the next step I feel is being directed by you.  Most days, it makes no sense, though I desperately want it to.  And sometimes, even more than wanting it myself, I wish that I could explain it to others.  If I could make some sense out of things, I could relax a little bit.  But, yes, I hear you tell me:  where would be the need for faith!?

Dear Heavenly Father, for everyone reading who is going through something tonight they really wish they understood, or wish was over, I pray for peace.  I pray for the faith to keep walking.  I pray that they would not pluck up in doubt what they planted in faith.  Give them the strength and grace to keep walking toward you, and toward your plan for their lives, even when they are surrounded by nay-sayers.  Put people in their way who will encourage them to keep searching for your will for their lives, and who will encourage them to pursue that will regardless of whether or not they themselves understand it.

Dear Lord, you exist outside of time and space.  All that is happening to us, has already happened in your timeline.  You know all, you see all, and you have orchestrated all this for our own benefit and your own glory.  Help us to trust that nothing is taking you by surprise.  Help us to remember that, in your timeline, all that is happening to us now has already happened.  Therefore, you already know the beginning from the end, and have our steps ordered in such a way that we will come to the end you want us to come to IF we trust you enough to seek your help and walk in the way you lay out for us!

So, Lord, we believe, but help our unbelief.  Help us to seek you for each step of the way, every day.  And help us to remember, each day, to F.R.O.G. – FULLY RELY ON GOD!

LIVE:  Take some deep breaths and ponder what it would feel like in your gut to rely on God all the time, every day.  Taste the sweetness of reliance so it’s not a chore but the absolute best way to live.

Day Fifty-Two: Dedication Ceremonies

READ:  2 Chronicles 6:12-18

(12-16) Before the entire congregation of Israel, Solomon took his position at the Altar of God and stretched out his hands. Solomon had made a bronze dais seven and a half feet square and four and a half feet high and placed it inside the court; that’s where he now stood.  Then he knelt in full view of the whole congregation, stretched his hands to heaven, and prayed:

God, O God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below, who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and unfailingly loves them while they sincerely live in obedience to your way.  You kept your word to David my father, your promise.  You did exactly what you promised–every detail.  The proof is before us today!

Keep it up, God, O God of Israel!  Continue to keep the promises you made to David my father when you said, “You’ll always have a descendant to represent my rule on Israel’s throne, on the one condition that your sons are as careful to live obediently in my presence as you have.”

(17) O God, God of Israel, let this all happen —

Confirm and establish it!

(18) Can it be that God will actually move in our neighborhood?  Why, the cosmos itself isn’t large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I’ve built.’

THINK:  King Solomon, son of King David, built the famous temple to the Lord on Mount Zion in Jerusalem as a gathering place for the Jews to worship Yahweh.  It took him years to build this temple, and at its completion he assembled all the people for a public dedication.  To dedicate something is to set it aside for a special purpose.  As you read the dedication prayer of Solomon, notice the gratitude and the humility of the king as he prays.

What precious aspects of your life (for example, people, positions, locations, important events, yourself) do you need to set solely aside for the Lord as a public reminder that all you have belongs to God?  What would it take for you to do that…and with the attitude of Solomon?

One thing that has been difficult for me over the course of this past year is remembering the words of a picture I saw once that says:  “Don’t pluck up in doubt what you planted in faith.”  This has applied to my life in so many ways this past year, but in the pursuit of my education, I have really had to cling tight to those words.  When all this mess started, my plan was to continue with my education until it was done, and then, use it.  I had no idea what else to do.  I still don’t, most of the time.  What I do know is that every time I’ve set out to get a job, something has happened to get in the way.  I’m not talking about part-time work, that’ll allow me to make a little extra cash.  I’m talking about full-time employment so that I can fully support the family.  Surely, that’s what an able-bodied person ought to do.  Yet, every time I’ve put in an application, I’ve been passed over.  I’ve been close on two or three jobs, and something has happened – at the last minute – that stopped me from getting the job.    I still have applications out.  I’m still looking.  But…my practicum starts in the spring, and my internship in the summer.  And both of those are going to need to be paid, or else God is going to have to open other doors that I’m not able to see right now.

PRAY:  Write out a prayer of dedication to God for an individual, situation, event, or position.

Dear Heavenly Father, only You know the plans you have for me right now.  I wish I did, but something tells me that I’d most likely jump the gun and run ahead of your will because I just so desperately want something resembling normal in my life right now.  The thing is:  I’ve never wanted normal.  Not for my Christian walk.  So, please, help me to trust you with these plans.  Keep my eyes open for the opportunities you are making available to me, and help me to know when you are shutting doors that I am tempted to try to push through.  Though there are so many things I should dedicate to you and leave them in your ever-capable hands, right now, I am entrusting my education and my future plans to you.  Help me to leave them there, rather than always trying to snatch them back out of your hands.

In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

LIVE:  Keep your dedication prayer so you can occasionally refer to it.  In fact, if you wish, make a note on your calendar a few weeks from today to reread your prayer.  At that time, think about what’s different in your life due to your dedication.

Day Fifty-One: Our Lives are Mere Shadows

READ:  David is blessing God in this passage.  To see his entire prayer, read the expanded passage, seeing how he dedicates to God the money and materials generously given by him and all the Israelites for building the temple.

1 Chronicles 29:12-19

(12-13) Riches and glory come from you,

you’re ruler over all;

You hold strength and power in the palm of your hand

to build up and strengthen all.

And here we are, O God, our God, giving thanks to you,

praising your splendid Name.

(14-19) “But me — who am I, and who are these my people, that we should presume to be giving something to you?  Everything comes from you; all we’re doing is giving back what we’ve been given from your generous hand.  As far as you’re concerned, we’re homeless, shiftless wanderers, like our ancestors, our lives are mere shadows, hardly anything to us.  God, our God, all these materials–these piles of stuff for building a house of worship for you, honoring your Holy Name–it all came from you!  I know, dear God, that you care nothing for the surface – you want us, our true selves – and so I have given from the heart, honestly and happily.  And now see all these people doing the same, giving freely, willingly – what a joy!  O God, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, keep this generous spirit alive forever in these people always, keep their hearts set firmly in you.  And give my son Solomon an uncluttered and focused heart so that he can obey what you command, live by your directions and counsel, and carry through with building The Temple for which I have provided.

THINK:  When David talks about our lives as “mere shadows”–that everything we have is actually only being borrowed from God–how does that strike you?  What item do you own, or what relationship do you have, that you hold more tightly that you would a shadow?  Be honest.

So…be honest, huh?!  Well, the one thing that I held the dearest – more dear to my heart than God (remember, I am being honest) – was my relationship with my husband.  Then, my control over my life.  Actually, I guess those two were probably interchangeable.  I’ve realized that in the last year-and-a-half.  I’ve always had a pretty tight grip on most things I love.  It’s hard to learn to let go, or to hold things with an open hand, as some of my friends put it.  The scripture from Job:  the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away comes to mind.  I don’t know, but I’m curious if this last year we’ve been through would’ve been so hard had I not been so determined not to let go of what God was asking of me.

PRAY:  As you approach God in prayer, picture yourself bringing with you the item that is hard to hold loosely.  Talk to God about what keeps you attached to it.  Don’t try to navigate the prayer so that by the end you are letting go of your treasured thing.  Don’t try to force yourself to be less attached to it than you actually are.  Simply talk to God while you imaginatively hold it tightly in your hands, and tell him about why it’s so important to you.  Keep in mind that if you are still in the same position internally at the end of your prayer time, that’s okay.

I find it interesting, and a bit convicting, that this part of the day’s devotional says not to try to manipulate the prayer so that, by the end of it, I am letting go of my treasured thing.  Usually, that is precisely what I end up trying to do because I would rather be “right” than be honest.  Sometimes, honest is not pleasing.  Sometimes, my honest feels down-right nasty.  And I find myself questioning, why on earth, would God listen to a prayer that is not nice, let alone answer one.  A part of me knows that God is more interested in my being able to be honest with him, since honesty is a sign of intimacy in a relationship.  However, the part of me that does not want to be a disappointment, just wants him to be pleased with me.  So…I try to tell Him what I think He would rather hear.  It seems, we are always children in some respects.

Luckily, this part goes on to encourage me not to try to force myself to be less attached to “it” than I actually am.  Good thing!  I would have a hard time not being attached to my husband and marriage.  Especially since I took vows (twice – once in a marriage, and once in a renewal) stating that I would stick with the guy until death we do part.  How can I offer that up to God and pretend that I am not attached to it?  I know, essentially, what I have to do is to not place that marriage in a position above where I place God.  I know that my prayer needs to be that our marriage would honor and glorify God.  But, HONESTLY, most of the time, I just want to live with and grow old with this man.  I know that God has not taken that away from me for good, just for now.  But the just for now has also taken a father away from his children.  The Navy did that for years.  But, he was ready to be home.  He was about to retire.  We were about to have him all to ourselves.  And now, THIS!
LIVE:  Take a few more minutes to reflect on what talking to God was like as you held on to the item you’re unwilling to give up – at least not easily.  Did you feel guilty or uncomfortable, or do you have trouble being honest with him?  Why might that be?

I haven’t had trouble being honest with God.  This time.  I don’t feel guilty not wanting to let go of my marriage or relationship in order to fully entrust it to God.  I’ve come to realize that it’s a process.  I want to want what God wants for me.  But, the truth is, quite often it’s a scary prospect.  I know that He has plans to prosper me, to give me a hope and a future.  And I know that future will include my husband.  It has to because we are not divorced, and he did not die.  He has just been removed from us temporarily.  We often joke that, instead of being on deployment for the Navy, now he is on a deployment for the Lord.  The reasons he is gone ABSOLUTELY BITE!  We did nothing to “deserve” this.  Standing accused and being convicted of something you didn’t do is AWFUL!  But my man is not the first, and he certainly will not be the last.  Especially in a society where the victim must always be right and the repercussions for lying are non-existent.  But…that is not my responsibility.  My responsibility is to live my life in a way that honors and glorifies God, and train up my children to do the same, regardless of what life throws at us.  I wish I could say that I’m getting it right.  Maybe more than that, I wish I could say that I felt like I was getting it right.  Or at least, I wish I felt like I was striking out less than I am.  I also wish I felt like I was standing on ground that was a little sturdier than I feel like it is.  Most days, all I’ve got is the will not to quit.  And, I’m convinced that is what’s going to propel me through to the end.  Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but gets up again; so, I’m going to keep getting back up.

How about you?

Day Fifty: Shout From the Mountaintops

READ:  1 Chronicles 16:23-29

(or the extended passage of 1 Chronicles 16:7-36, also known as “David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving)

          Read the passage slowly, keeping in mind that “Shout Bravo!” here means something like “give credit to.”

 

(23-27) Sing to God, everyone and everything!

     Get out his salvation news every day!

Publish his glory among the godless nations,

     his wonders to all races and religions.

And why?  Because God is great–well worth praising!

     No god or goddess comes close in honor.

All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,

     but God made the cosmos!

Splendor and majesty flow out of him,

     strength and joy fill his place.

 

(26-29) Should Bravo! To God, families of the peoples,

     in awe of the Glory, in awe of the Strength:  Bravo!

Shout Bravo! To his famous Name,

     lift high an offering and enter his presence!

Stand resplendent in his robes of holiness!

 

          Read the passage aloud again, but do it this time as if you are speaking convincingly, first to “everyone and everything” (verse 23 addresses the entire planet, including the vegetation and animals of the earth), then to all the “families of the peoples” (verse 28, all nations, all tribes, all classes of people).

 

THINK:  Read the passage again silently and ponder the following:

  1. Consider the words you most relish. What phrase did you particularly enjoy saying as you read the passage dramatically?

The part of this psalm that I most enjoy saying is:  “…God made the cosmos.  Splendor and majesty flow out of him, strength and joy fill his place.”

  1. What would you most want the earth to know or understand about God?

What I most want the earth to know or understand about God is that the salvation that Christ will bring when He comes again will be for the entire earth, not just for mankind, but for the rest of creation as well.

  1. What would you most want the families of the earth to know or understand about God?

What I most want the people of the earth to know is that there is no god or goddess that could come close in honor, to include ourselves. 

 

PRAY:  Being by asking God to lead you in your prayer.  Wait for him.  Once you get started, you may wish to say something like, “O God, I’m so glad you are…” and finish with ideas from this psalm.

 

O God, I’m so glad you are merciful to us when we fall.  I am glad that you hear our prayers even when we do not deserve your kindness.  Your kindness do not just extend to us, they extend to the whole earth.  Everywhere we turn, there is something remarkable and beautiful and terrific to look at and appreciate.  May we give your creation the respect it deserves, but never more than the Creator.

 

LIVE:  If you could shout this psalm from anywhere in the world, where would that be?  (It might be on a specific mountaintop or by a certain waterfall or even before an international group, such as the United Nations.)  Picture yourself saying these verses from your heart in that setting, without embarrassment or any other reservation.  Rest in your boldness.

 

The weather has been so nice today, that we opened the windows and doors to let the fresh air in.  It’s dark now, and I still have my windows open, and I can hear crickets and tree frogs outside.  It’s such a soothing sound that my son has even made a “playlist” of crickets and rain on a nature sounds app I have on my iPad.  The thing is:  the window has been open for so long and I’ve gotten busy doing other things so that I had practically forgotten about having my windows open or being able to hear the crickets.  Perhaps that’s why God says to “Be still and know that He is God.”  He’s there.  He’s talking.  But with our busy-ness of life, we get so used to the noise around us that we forget to pay attention to His voice.  How about we all slow down a notch or two, throttle down, and see if we can’t hear God whispering to us in the stillness and quiet.

Day Forty-Nine: Reflections on Week 7

There are a lot of things going through my mind as I start this not the least of which is that there is no way I am ever going to be able to pay back everyone for the kindnesses my family and I have received over the last 3 years.  There are two main reasons for this.  ONE:  even if I had been keeping track of all the monetary kindness I have been shown, there is plenty that I haven’t known of, and even more that nobody would ever cop to because of the desire to remain anonymous.  TWO:  many of the gifts and kindnesses I have received are priceless and, as such, I couldn’t even begin to assign a dollar value, or even hope to repay the favor exactly.  For how does one place a price-tag on a well-timed sermon that is just what you need right when you need it?  How does one place a dollar value on a hug from a friend? 

 

Nobody is asking me to pay them back.  That’s not where I’m going with this at all.  No, what I’m thinking about has more to do with the my inability to ever fully repay a debt when I cannot even comprehend its breadth.  Sounds a little like having one’s sins paid for by someone who never knew sin, who was perfect. 

 

The friends and church family who have helped me out so much, who have been there for me in ways I will likely never be able to comprehend, in many ways, I feel I owe my life to them.  Maybe not literally, but figuratively for sure.  There was nothing I could’ve done to deserve their kindness.  They just felt compelled to bless me and my family out of their own blessings.  As a friend of mine said today, “What?  It’s not ours anyway.  We’re just giving it back to God.”  Knowing that is the truth, but really experiencing the truth of it are two TOTALLY different things.  And if I feel like I could never repay these people for their kindness, and like I owe them a debt of gratitude for just making my life possible for the time being, how much more do I owe Christ who has, most assuredly, given His very life for me and, with his sacrifice, has paid my way into Heaven by paying off debts I didn’t even know I owed.  Is my obedience enough?  Is my praise enough?  My worship?  I could be cliché and say that I would pledge my undying devotion to Him, but I’m human, and that’d be a lie.  The truth is that my devotion will wane.  It has many times in the past, and likely it will in the future because I forget just how much I’ve been given and forgiven.  Then, something will happen that will remind me, and once again, I will be “on fire” for Jesus again.  Until the next time. 

 

Why is it always like this?  Because, far too often, I forget to remind myself of what all God has done for me.  I get bogged down in the busy-ness and daily-ness of life, and I forget to remind myself of the gospel of Jesus Christ that says I was a sinner and I needed a Savior. 

 

I can even take it one step farther.  Given all that I have received so freely from a God that I could never repay, how could I hold onto that gift so selfishly?  I did nothing to deserve it.  I could never earn it.  And yet, I benefit from the blessing of that gift everyday.  Yet, when it comes time to share with others, I balk.  I let fear stand in the way.  Where’s the undying devotion then?  Where is my obedience?  My praise?  My worship of the God that made my very life possible? 

 

Well…guess what?!  This week the county fair starts.  Our church has an evangelism booth at said fair.  I’ve worked the fear a couple of times, and have always let fear stand in the way of my saying anything substantial to passers-by, or even to those who stop.  Perhaps there is a reason I am having these thoughts and feelings on the eve of the week that I am scheduled for two shifts at that booth………..

 

Day Forty-Eight: Linking Arms

READ:  1 Chronicles 11:10-11 (or see the extended passage of 1 Chronicles 11:10-12:15)

 

10-11  These are the chiefs of David’s Mighty Men, the ones who linked arms with him as he took up his kingship, with all Israel joining in, helping him become king in just the way God had spoken regarding Israel.  The list of David’s Mighty Men:

          Jashobeam son of Hacmoni was chief of the Thirty.  Singlehandedly he killed three hundred men, killed them all in one skirmish.

 

THINK:  David’s Mighty Men were willing to risk their lives by crossing the Philistine military camp in order to bring David water from the Bethlehem well.  What incredible friendship!

          Discuss this passage with a friend or spiritual mentor.  What do you think about the idea of linking arms with others?  Is it awkward?  Is it worth the effort?

 

PRAY:  Tell God about any worries or insecurities you have about linking up with others.  Pray for the discernment to choose a few mature, like-minded people to link arms with you and the boldness to ask them for help.

 

LIVE:  Approach these individuals and ask them to link arms with you.

 

Merciful Heavens, Dear Readers.  If I’ve had one discussion about linking arms with people over the course of the past 18 months, I’ve had dozens.  It seems that God has me right smack-dab in the middle of having to link arms with people when all I really want is to not have to.  Funny thing is:  I never really considered myself to be a person who had a hard time asking for help.  I guess I just never really ran across anything I thought of as insurmountable.  And if I did, I guess I just deemed it outside of God’s will, so I didn’t try. 

 

So, let’s see.  What could possibly worry someone about having to link up with others?  What worried me?  Well….what if what I think is important isn’t?  What if I need help and nobody is there?  I was asking God to deliver me from this situation – that would’ve been help that I couldn’t do for myself – and he wouldn’t do that.  So why should I believe that he’s going to put it on the hearts of others to help me in my hour of need?  Why would he do that when he could’ve just delivered me and wouldn’t? 

 

The conclusion I’ve come to – the only one I’ve been able to draw that seems to make any sense for where I am in my life right now – is that I needed to see how the body of Christ can work when they are led by the Lord.  In all my desire not to have to link up with people, I’ve had no other choice.  And what I have witnessed, and what my children and parents and husband have witnessed, is God working through people – is Jesus with skin on, working to support one of his own.  When I felt like God had dropped me on my head, and had no reason to believe that others wouldn’t do the same, what He has shown me is that we do all need each other.  There are some gifts that I have that the body needs.  That’s why God gave them to me.  Likewise, there are gifts that people around me need to share, and they needed to be shared with me (for now), and I needed to see them being shared.  And my kids and my husband and my parents and countless other people around me who I’m sure I will never realize needed to see this, have needed to see these gifts being shared.  I have no idea why God chose my family for this time or this time for my family, but I believe that someone needs to see our church family being the church family RIGHT NOW for this season.  And maybe, just maybe, someone in our own congregation needed a chance to take a step up and BE the church, to be the participant in the body of Christ that He called them to be.  I don’t know.  I am sure that there are wonderful and glorious things happening through our situation that I will not get to know this side of Heaven, but they are happening for sure. 

 

I do have to say that there is one thing I am grateful for, that I knew even before I got the point where I am now that I would be grateful for.  Under PRAY, it says to ask God for discernment to choose a few mature, like-minded people to link arms with.  I knew, when all this first started that, if things didn’t go my way, I wouldn’t even have the luxury of turning my back on God because of the people I had surrounded myself with.  My closest friends through this whole ordeal have let me whine and cry and mope, but they have not let me live in a pit of despair.  These friends have known me long enough to see things in me that I have doubted or lost sight of or questioned if those things were ever there, and they have repeated back to me things I’ve said in the past that I’d forgotten I believed when I was at my lowest.  They have helped me to stand back up and brush myself off.  But, they have also challenged me through my doubt.  They have made me ask myself if I ever really believed those things I said.  They have not shied away from asking me hard questions and telling me hard truths even when they’ve tried to make me laugh and told me to take it easy on myself.  They have been gracious and merciful, but they’ve worn their steel-toed boots in the process, because sometimes I just need a good, swift kick in the pants.  They have laughed with me (and sometimes at me).  They have cried with me and they have cried for me.  They have prayed with me and they have prayed for me.  They have rejoiced with me and mourned with me, and they have all comforted me with the comfort they themselves have received (at one time or another) from Christ Jesus himself.  In short, they have been to me – and my whole family – the very representation of the God and Christ that I thought had deemed me unworthy of helping by not delivering me in the first place. 

 

Dear Friends, if you find yourself floundering tonight, wondering where God is, why He seems to have left you out in the world, all alone, with no intention of saving you, might I suggest you look around you.  Is there someone in your life who just won’t go away?  Is there someone in your life who insists on being nice to you and you find yourself wondering why, or what it is this person could possibly want from you, because you know you have nothing to offer?  Maybe that is your lifeline and you don’t recognize it.

 

Or maybe you find that there is someone in your life that you’re drawn to and don’t know why.  Have you made an effort to talk to that person?  Might I suggest that by refusing to talk to that person, you may be missing a divine appointment.  It takes a little bit of effort.  You might even be really uncomfortable at first.  Please, please, please…make the effort.  You never know if your next best friend is just a conversation away.  You never know if someday that person will be your lifeline when you need a friend.  Without a doubt, God has put you right where you are for some reason.  Without a doubt, he has put in your way the people who are in your life right now.  Aren’t you the least bit curious to find out why? 

Day Forty-Seven: God’s White-Hot Anger

READ:  2 Kings 22:11-17 (or the extended passage at 2 Kings 22 & 23)

 

(11-13) When the king heard what was written in the book, God’s Revelation, he ripped his robes in dismay.  And then he called for Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the royal secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal aide.  He ordered them all:  “Go and pray to God for me and for this people–for all Judah!  Find out what we must do in response to what is written in this book that has just been found!  God’s anger must be burning furiously against us–our ancestors haven’t obeyed a thing written in this book, followed none of the instructions directed to us.”

(14-17) Hilkiah the priest , Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went straight to Huldah the prophetess.  She was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, who was in charge of the palace wardrobe.  She lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.  The five men consulted with her.  In response to them she said, “God’s word, the God of Israel:  Tell the man who sent you here that I’m on my way to bring the doom of judgment on this place and this people.  Every word written in the book read by the king of Judah will happen.  And why?  Because they’ve deserted me and taken up with other gods, made me thoroughly angry by setting up their god-making businesses.  My anger is raging white-hot against this place and nobody is going to put it out.”

 

THINK:  Read the passage again.  As you do, listen for words or images that especially impact you, such as raging anger that “nobody is going to put…out,” or the king ripping his robes “in dismay.”

 

PRAY:  Take time to silently repeat this word or phrase from the passage or to let the image play itself out in your mind.  See how it matches with your thoughts, feelings, and memories.  Eventually let your contemplation lead you to consider whether there are any questionable or sinful areas of your life that you have been ignoring lately.  Can you tell why you’ve been ignoring them?  Bring them before God.  What is your posture?

 

LIVE:  Picture this God whose “anger is raging white-hot.”  What’s it like to be before him?  Now see Jesus, the mediator between the holy God pictured in this passage and the sinful people God loves.  Turn to Jesus and together examine your heart.  Watch his response to the sinful areas you noticed.  What is he inviting you to do in response to what you see?  Respond to his invitation.  Watch God the Father accept Jesus’ redemption of your sin–see God’s white-hot anger cool–and experience being welcomed back into full fellowship with him once more.

 

My dear readers, I am happy for the chance to deliver each of these devotional days to you.  I think this one, however, does not need anything more from me.  You know what God is speaking to you.  I know what God is speaking to me.  I pray that each of us has the courage to take a good, honest look at ourselves and find those areas God would have us see, those areas that need to be addressed, that we’ve been withholding from God, and find out why.  I pray for the strength to get brutally honest, knowing that God cares more about our character than our comfort, and that we would allow him to do the work necessary to pry those sinful areas out of our heart, regardless of how deeply lodged they are.  Then, I pray that we would allow Him to fill those areas of our hearts with what ought to be there:  more of Him and more of His Word.