LIFE’S DIFFICULTIES, BLESSINGS

I’m sitting here in my study looking at the weather station that shows it’s 105 degrees on the north side of my house in deep shade.  Yes, it’s hot!  In the back yard it’s 109.    My refrigerator died earlier this month, so I had to buy a new one.  My not very old washing machine quit working, but woo, I was able to fix it.  The espresso machine went on the fritz.  All this is happening when we’ve recently lost a fair portion of our monthly income.  Life has its difficulties.

In addition, I live in drought ridden California, so we’re trying to be very careful with our water usage.  A sprinkler valve stuck in my front yard sending a great wash of water down the street.  I replaced the valve, but not very well, so it broke loose and flooded the front yard.  Yes, and I forgot a hose I left running that flooded my back yard.  Really, I’m trying to be good!  The August water bill will reflect that I’m not being very successful.  Life has its difficulties.

As I reflect on these difficulties, I’m suddenly embarrassed.  A vision of the suffering across the earth passes through my mind.  I see the pictures of starvation, famine and war suffered by my fellow humans.  My difficulties pale in comparison.  I live a very comfortable and blessed life.

Even though it’s hot outside, my air conditioned house is a comfortable 80 degrees.  I love my new refrigerator, and it’ll be paid off in a few months.  I have the convenience of a washer and dryer right here in my house.  The espresso machine is working again!  And though we’ve had a financial set back, all our bills are paid.  Life has its blessings.

About now you’re wondering where the scriptures and the adaption of a spiritual message are.  Well here it is.  When living in God’s world, trust him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (See Proverbs 3:5)  Both difficulties and blessings are covered by this verse.  It is his world.  We can trust him with the outcome.  He worked out our salvation.  He can handle all the rest.  He loves us through the difficulties and the blessings.

 

Reposted from July of 2015

THE BRAVEST ACT

Bravery is a desirable trait.  Most of us find it so.  The Encarta Dictionary defines bravery as: courage in the face of danger, difficulty, or pain.  Throughout the annals of history there have been innumerable acts of bravery.  Usually when being brave, a person puts aside self-concern and moves onward.  They have the hope of a good outcome, but they are willing to face the possibility of a bad one.

Matthew records in chapter 26 of his gospel the story of Jesus’ final hours before he was arrested.  Jesus knew he was facing a brutal death.  There was no chance of a different outcome because what he was facing had been planned from the beginning of time.  In the garden of Gethsemane he said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  Then he went a little ways away to pray.   He prayed three times, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus also said to his disciples, as Peter raised a sword to defend him, “Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  Jesus had the power to remove himself from this terrible situation at any time.  Instead, he bravely faced a certain horrible death.  He was compelled by obedience to his Father ‘s will and a deep love for you and me.  This is surely the bravest act.

 

Two thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer: 

Pray it every day; because, it is a daily prayer.

When you pray alone, you should personalize it.  In the garden, Jesus prayed, “My Father.”

GOD ANSWERS THE LORD’S PRAYER

Last night, as I lay on my bed awaiting the curtain of sleep to envelop me, I began to reflect on those times in my early years when I escaped being caught up in evil.  The stimulation of these memories caused me to raise prayers of thanksgiving.  God was in my life protecting me even before I fully recognized him.  As I thought about this, I realized that God was answering the Lord’s Prayer.  He was delivering me from evil.

I tend to trivialize the Lord’s Prayer because I memorized it many years ago as a child.  The repetition of this familiar prayer has washed over its implications.  In my meditations, I encounter a highlighted view of these meaningful words.  I recognized that God has indeed delivered me from evil and kept me from temptation.  He has provided my daily bread, forgiven me, and taught me to forgive others.

Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples saying “this is how you should pray.”  I found myself saying “yes” this is how I should pray.  Jesus starts his prayer by setting a proper placement between man and God, and then he gives us a few words to deal with daily life.  He covers it all.  Of course, I did know this before, but isn’t it wonderful how you can come to a deeper revelation of a familiar passage of scripture?  The words of the Lord’s Prayer have taken on new significance for me. 

I’d like Jesus’ prayer to be continually with me both as I speak it, and as I experience its impact in my heart.  I desire to offer it to God my Father with an expression of love and thanksgiving for his continual answers.

RESTRAINT

It is a tendency among us humans to want to throw off restraint.  From the very beginning, when we had only one restraint, don’t eat from this tree, we have chosen to see restraint as a hindrance to our freedom. The story in Genesis chapter 3 shows us clearly the fault of throwing off restraint.  We gained freedom but suffered the consequences. 

Restraints do hinder our freedom, but they are often good for us.  When driving down the freeway, we are restrained by the speed limit.  Speed limits are for our safety.  They are good restraints.  When the patrolling officer gives us a ticket, we suffer the consequences of ignoring restraint. 

When I was a vice principal in charge of discipline, I used to say to offending students, “You can choose to exercise self-control, or I will apply external control.  Self-control is much easier for you and for me.”   We are either restrained by internal restraint or external restraint.  Self-applied restraint, self-control, is always the better choice, and in the case of receiving a speeding ticket much less expensive. 

The only way we self-centered humans can manage in society is with laws and rules that restrain us.  As Americans, we have a great deal of freedom.  We should be thankful for our freedom and respect the laws and rules that keep us in line.  I find this difficult don’t you?  I always want more freedom.  This gets me in trouble.  There are always consequences when I step beyond the rules.

Isn’t it incredible that Jesus paid the price for my renegade behavior?  He took the consequences for me.  What amazing love and compassion he has shown me.  I should be constantly humbled with gratitude.  Yet I still want to throw off restraints.

WHAT SINS?

The other evening I was driving home from work feeling tired but happy.  The next thing you know, I began thinking about a past sin – one that brings me deep regret.  My good mood was being dashed.  Suddenly, I remembered that this sin has been forgiven and forgotten by God.  It is in the past, and I’ve surrendered it at the foot of the cross.  I have been set free by the blood of Jesus.  Dwelling on past iniquities produces nothing good.

Others might want to condemn me for past sins, but God doesn’t.  He forgave me.  I am reminded of what King David said in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned…”  Ultimately, though my sins have injured others, my sins are against my Father who is ruler of heaven and earth.  With love, he overcame the sentence of death that I earned by sinning.  He gave his one and only Son to pay for my sins.  This has been done.  Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

So why am I still haunted by sins that God has forgiven?  I seem to hold on to my guilt.  Perhaps my self-depended nature won’t let me forgive myself.  Maybe those sins that I think I’ve surrender at the foot of the cross weren’t really surrendered.  A touch of eternal reality might be needed here.  Psalm 103:11-12 reminds, For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Since God has forgiven and forgotten my sins, and he has set me free from the law of sin and death, the appropriate response would be to discontinue wallowing in them.  What good is freedom if I keep returning to the bondage from which I’ve been freed?

So I exclaim, “What sins?”

MORNING DEVOTIONS

Jason opened the cabin door and stepped out, crossed the small porch, descended the steps, and headed down the path toward the lake.  Approaching the lake he diverted from the path and took a seat on his favorite rock.  He paused a few minutes to take in the view.  The lake was still with a thin morning mist hovering near the center.  Rays of sunlight angled through the trees as if to highlight the undergrowth.    The air was alive with fluttering birds chirping their happy songs, and a family of squirrels in the higher branches discussed Jason’s arrival. 

Jason smiled, and with a contented sigh opened his Bible to Psalm 19.  He read: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies declare the work of his hands.  As he continued the words of the Psalm filled him with wonder and awe.  Just then, Jesus appeared and took a seat next to him.

Jason exclaimed, “Lord I am amazed at what you have created, how it all fits together with such intricacy, and how vast you made it”!  He was excited to express delight with creation to the one through whom it was created.

Jesus smiled.

Jason continued, “As I look at you my heart experiences deep emotion.  I just realized that your love shown in the redemption of creation must also have been there at the beginning.”  Jason slipped from the rock to his knees; “Thank you for creating me; thank you for redeeming me.  Thank you that you have given me the opportunity to experience your love.”

Jesus reached out his hand, lifted Jason to his feet, and said, “You’re welcome.  Now come and join me, and let me know what else is on your heart today.”

“Well the treasured lady that you sent to walk beside me is always on my heart.  Bless her strengthen and encourage her today.  Help me to appreciate her in all our interactions.  Remember my children.  Help them to grow in their relationship with you.  I ask you to touch that little boy who is suffering, and be with his family.  They need your comfort.  My dear friend needs your healing touch.”  Jason stopped there.  He recognized that he was done.  The prayers on his mind had been expressed.

“What is on your heart for this day?” Jesus asked.

“Well, I really want to cut three limbs from that tree in my back yard before the sap begins to run.”

“Go and do it,” Directed Jesus.

Jason dismissed himself with a thank you, rose from his chair, and left his study.

GRACE

Grace – unmerited divine assistance given to man

This is a dictionary definition of grace.  I like this definition because of the word unmerited.  Grace is a gift of God that we did not merit.  Out of his love for us he gave us life giving assistance when we were dead in our sins.  I believe that grace is poorly understood by Christians because we are always talking about what we are doing for God, but our testimony should be about what God has done and is doing for us.  Our good works are inspired by the grace he has given us.

This passage from Ephesians 2:1-9 provides insight for us:

            As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

I stop before sharing the last verse of this section because we need to stop.  The explanation of our salvation is finished.

 

Then we read about what happens in response to this salvation by grace.

            For we are God’s workmanship, created in Chris Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

Now that our salvation is finished, God has works for us to do.  We don’t have to come up with these works.  He has already prepared them for us.  In humble gratitude, we seek his direction for what to do.  Remember: “…it is by grace you have been saved.”  “Have been” indicates that it has already happened, and it is ongoing.  Relax and enjoy the unmerited assistance that God has given you.