post

Carrying Burdens

Galatians 6:2“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”Galatians 6:2

Most of us, when we see someone carrying a heavy burden, will offer to help if we can. And we appreciate help when the burden is ours! We open doors for mothers pushing baby carriages or people entering the post office with bulky packages. We accept help from our families to carry the groceries into the house. Our librarian keeps plastic bags on hand for patrons who check out a lot of books. It’s common courtesy—when we see a need, we help. This fulfills the law of Christ: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12:31 and 33, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8).

Physical loads are usually pretty easy to see. But what about mental, spiritual, or social ones? We may need some help being made aware of these. If we ask, God’s Spirit will reveal people who need to talk, who need to know about Christ, who need friendship or an encouraging word. Sometimes, just being noticed can lift someone’s heavy load.

We can’t meet every need—only God can do that. But we can ask for eyes to see what God wants us to see, to recognize burdens and our ability to offer aid:

Spirit, You know whose loads are too heavy today. Please show me what I can’t see—whom, what, where, when and how to lift burdens today. And thanks for sending help when the need is mine, so others also can fulfill the law of Christ. Amen.

post

Psalm 18:34 on My Mind

NewOMM“He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”Psalm 18:34

Today we continue our five-week concentration on Psalm 18:32-36 with verse 34. I hope you’re memorizing this passage with me. If not, I pray you’re absorbing some truths from these verses that will firmly stick in your mind. That’s the goal when we meditate on God’s Word. We want to hear from Him and to remember His words to us.

When I first looked at verse 34 today, considering what I wanted to write about it, thoughts of spiritual warfare came to mind. Personally, I don’t need to know the fine points of hand-to-hand combat or how to bend a bow of bronze, but I do need to know how to pray when Satan attacks me, my family, my friends, or my community. We all do! If we ask God to train us for this, He most definitely will. Requests like that are pleasing to Him; He wants us involved in the unseen fight for the souls of all people. He’s their Creator, after all.

I think there’s a deeper truth to this verse, though. David, its author, was a warrior. He wrote Psalm 18 to praise God for delivering him from his enemies, most notably King Saul. David did need to know the fine points of hand-to-hand combat. His life depended on him being able to bend a bow of bronze. In today’s Bible verse, David is recognizing God’s provision for his specific need.

Psalm 18:34Not only did David need these skills at that time–they served him well throughout his life, from his role as a shepherd defending sheep from lions and bears to his role as the King defending God’s people placed in his care. David recognized the truth that God prepares his people to capably complete the tasks He calls Him to do.

God didn’t call me to be a warrior like David. Instead, He called me to read and write and study and teach. When I consider Psalm 18:34, I reflect on the preparation and training and guidance God has given me for this throughout my life. He has led me to jobs and projects and assignments and classes and through experiences that enable me to serve Him wherever I go. He trained me. He graciously gives me whatever skills I need. Reflecting on this, I’m filled with joy, contentment, thanksgiving, and praise.

As you consider Psalm 18:34 this week, I invite you to reflect on how and for what God has trained you. What is your calling? How has God trained you for it? Are you faithfully using the skills He’s granted to you? What work of God in your life are you most thankful for today?

Father, thank You for training us to face what is ahead. You prepare us to do whatever we must. You also grant us skills we need to serve in whatever capacity you’ve called us to. Help us to recognize Your work in our lives and to go, as soon as we’re able, to fulfill each day’s calling. Thank You, as always, for going with us. Without You, we’ve no hope. You are the God of Providence. We love You, Lord. Amen.

post

In This World But Not of It

“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.'” -John 18:36, NIV

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” -John 17:15-16, NIV

DSC01139As I read the two verses above and notice how they fit together, three thoughts stand out to me:

1. Jesus kept His focus on eternal Kingdom goals. Jesus’ words in John 18:36 reveal that He was able to endure the pain and injustice of the cross because He knew that His suffering, though real, was temporary. He kept His focus on God’s Kingdom–His Kingdom–and the impact that His actions would have for eternity. Jesus really did experience physical pain, ridicule, humiliation, and a sense of abandonment, but He knew that it was of this earth. He clung to that truth as He endured the atrocious events of that day and chose to follow the path that impacted His Kingdom for eternity in the only triumphant way.

2. Jesus didn’t ask God to remove His followers from this world. John 17 records Jesus prayer for His own glorification, for His disciples, and for all who would come to believe as a result of His incarnation, death, and resurrection. He didn’t pray that God would take His followers out of the world but that God would protect them from Satan. If God had removed all believers from this world as they came to believe, there would be no one around to tell others about Him! For the sake of God’s Kingdom, we have to follow Jesus’ example, focus on God’s Kingdom, and endure faithfully through circumstances that God can use to impact eternity.

3. Jesus did ask God to protect us from Satan. Knowing this, we are assured, even when we don’t understand, that anything that God allows into our life can be used for the good of His Kingdom and for our own development as God’s children growing into maturity. God will not allow anything into our lives that has the power to force us back into slavery to sin. So long as we dwell in His Kingdom (currently on earth but not of the earth), Satan has no authority over us. Christians live under God’s sovereign protection regarding eternity.

That said, regarding this world, God sometimes chooses to protect us from life’s harsh realities. Other times, however, He allows us to experience them, to suffer pain that is not fair. When He allows this, we can trust that He will use those realities in ways we can’t even begin to comprehend to prepare us for His Kingdom or to draw others into it. What happens on earth, whether painful or joyous, is temporary. God cares for us deeply. He hurts when we hurt. Yet His primary concern is with the eternal. It has to be! Therefore He acts, first of all, to impact that. We choose to cooperate with Him when we trust Him to be with us in all situations and serve Him faithfully.

Father, sometimes life is hard. Sometimes I don’t understand why You allow some of the things You do. But I know You are sovereign, and I know You are good. You are building Your Kingdom now, right here on this earth. Please use my life according to Your plan. Please help me to trust You in all You do. Amen.

post

In Search of Little Birds This Christmas

Note: This is a repost from my original blog, Wildflower Thinking. The event that follows took place in 2008, but the lesson seems especially appropriate for this busy Christmas season. Let’s all be careful to watch for little birds this year.

Our family was leaving the mall. Mike opened the door, and I noticed something flopping around underneath it. As I followed Mike out, I looked more closely and realized I wasn’t imagining things—it really was a little bird. “Oh, no!” I yelped as Mike closed the door, running over the confused bird again.

I knelt down quickly, oblivious to the fact that I was now in the path of the door and about to be run over myself. Mike ran interference while figuring out why his wife had suddenly lost all common sense. He started nudging the bird with his foot.

“What are you doing?” I asked, quite alarmed.

Mike rolled his eyes. “I’m moving the bird away from the door, so he won’t get run over again.” (He’s pretty smart, that man.) Then he looked around to see where to safely direct the bird. (He did this all for me, you know! Either that, or he knew he’d never get home until we’d taken good care of the bird.)

Realizing the nearest bush was several feet away and that kicking the bird that far would probably do more harm than good, we did the next best thing. We told Seth to pick up the bird. (Yes—it was a classic LIFE cereal moment. “I’m not picking up that bird.” “Well, I’m not picking up that bird.” “Let’s get Seth to pick up the bird! Hey, Seth!”) Seth picked up the bird, I took pictures, we introduced the bird to its new refuge spot—all was well with the world, we could go home. Mike was still rolling his eyes.

So now I’m wondering how many other little birds we carelessly run over as we go about our daily routine. I’m not talking about real birds anymore—though we almost missed the one at the mall! How many hurting people do we cross paths with every day who feel constantly run over by life? They’re standing there stunned and confused as people walk on by, pushing them aside without even realizing they’re there. How many people do we talk to regularly, maybe even at church, who need, not just small talk, but a true listening ear or a nudge toward safety? God can use us to help people if we’ll notice who’s flopping around.

Lord, You know that I can’t save every little bird, but open my eyes that I will see to help where I can. Make me aware. Remind me to stop and take time to express genuine care. There’s nothing more important that I have to do today. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Essential Fridays and Spiritual Sundays.

Special Announcement: The Kindle version of my new book, Home Is Where God Sends You, is on sale this week. Click here to purchase your copy.

post

Praying for Decision-Makers Whose Choices Concern Us

“May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.” –Psalm 138:4-5

It’s easy to become alarmed when we read or hear in the news that a national or world leader or group of leaders is making decisions contrary to God’s known will, in other words, in opposition to what’s clear in His Word.

We don’t have to be alarmed, though. Our sovereign God is in control. He knows what’s going on, who’s behind it, and how it will end. And nobody does anything without His consent. He may not approve, but He does allow, and when He does, He knows just what He’s going to do about it.

So. No worries. God’s got this.

In the meantime, though. There is something more positive that we can do whenever we hear alarming news such as this. Like the psalmist, we can pray. In fact, he even gave us the words. Psalm 138:4-5 is a prayer for the leaders of this earth. When God brings them to mind through any news source, let’s remember to pray that they will all learn to praise Him. Let’s pray they’ll learn what God has decreed. Let’s pray that they’ll come to sing of His glory as they realize His glory is great.

In Romans 13:1, Paul tells us that “there is no authority except that which God has established.” That being the case, those authorities need direction from God. I have no doubt that He can and will use them for His purposes right where they are right as they are, but just think how much more effective they’d be and how much more fulfilled personally if they were working in cooperation with God, living as His faithful servants, longing to touch His heart.

Father, thank You for the prayers of the Bible. Thank You for leading us to this one today. Help us to remember these words and pray them often, for the good of our world, our nation, and our community, for the good of those who serve in positions of authority. Amen.

post

Strength for More Than a Game

Salmon Flowers“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ . . . From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” –Ephesians 4:11-13, 16

Raise your hand if you remember Red Rover, Red Rover, the infamous, school playground game.

I truly hope there aren’t too many of you who do. I remember the day when the playground monitor came out to stop us from playing it and to tell us that the school had decided it was just too dangerous. Someone was going to get their arm pulled out of its socket—or worse!

Part of my then ten-year-old self was outraged that the school would stop us from having so much fun. A bigger part, a part I kept quiet at the time, was oh-so-relieved!

That game was absolutely terrifying!!!

For those who’ve been blessed to have never heard of it:

Two teams line up facing each other on opposite sides of the playing field. Children on each team link arms to make a chain. One team yells, Red Rover, Red Rover send [unfortunate child from the other team] right over. That unfortunate child, often me (I’ll explain why in a minute.), then has to run as fast as she can across the field to try to break through the other team’s chain. If she succeeds, she triumphantly gets to choose one member of the opposite team to join her team. If she fails, she gets caught up in the chain like a convict snagged at the top of a barbed wire fence. Then, when everyone finishes laughing over this child’s humiliation, she reluctantly becomes part of the team she failed to break through. The other team then takes their turn, hopefully not calling the same, unfortunate child back.

Why was I often that unfortunate child? Because I was little. Think about it. A smart team is not going to call the big, football-player-type kid to come hurling at them as fast as he can from clear across the field. No. They’re going to call the child least likely to break through, aka the little girl.

On the flip side, the child who is running across the field is not going to try to break through between two giant, playground jocks whose arms are solidly linked. No. That child is going to try to break through two little girls. That’s right. Me and my best friend, Anne. If we weren’t the runners, we were targets, bracing ourselves for the on-coming blow and praying it wouldn’t hurt too much.

Oh, yeah. We were sorry to see that game go.

Spiritual warfare is kind of like that game of Red Rover. Satan is always looking for the weak link in the Body of Christ. He targets it and throws everything he has as it, hoping to break through to claim someone for his side. But as the Body of Christ, we are one. We are joined and held together by supporting ligaments. We are growing and building ourselves up in love as each of us does our work.

I see two ways this works:

1. Just as someone who wants to excel at a physical sport will eat right, exercise often, and get plenty of rest before a game, Christians train for spiritual warfare.

I don’t think either Anne or I could have built ourselves up enough to stand against the playground jocks in a game of Red Rover. No protein-rich, muscle-building diet or amount of strength-training would have made much of a difference for us. We were just too small. (And we didn’t take the game that seriously!)

But Christians can build themselves up. Bible study is our healthy diet. Prayer, worship, and fellowship with other Christians are essential strength-training. Honoring the Sabbath assures we rest.

2. Just as a team must work together, with every member contributing his or her strengths, Christians help each other succeed.

Think about that game of Red Rover. What if, just once, instead of leaving Anne and I to stand alone against the oncoming runner, one of stronger players on our team had linked arms between us. That person’s strength added to ours might have made the difference to keep the other team from breaking through. Evidently, we weren’t smart enough to figure that out in grade school. (Or maybe, at ten, we were still afraid of cooties.)

But we Christians can apply the principle now. By serving one another in love, we help the weaker links among us to be built up and grow. The whole body benefits when we strengthen each other this way.

We build ourselves up through Bible study, worship, fellowship, and prayer. We build the body through faithful service to our brothers and sisters in Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Father, thank You for drawing us together in Christ as one body of believers. Help us do our part each day for individual and community growth. In You, we stand firm against the enemy. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

To read more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays and Hear It on Sunday; Use It on Monday.