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The Old Paths Lead to the Good Way

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

When we search for a source of comfort, there are times when returning to the old ways can be very therapeutic. We listen to music we enjoyed when we were younger as we the nostalgia of old TV shows or movie classics provide memories of days-gone-by.  During the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, it was found that families reunited at home over old board games or around the kitchen table enjoying a longstanding family recipe that surfaced because they were forced to make home-cooked meals. As humans, we are always looking for the new. We have a creative streak in us that generates, searches for, and escalates new ways of thinking.  We have become convinced that old things can almost always be done in a better way. Thus, the world is shaped and molded by new ideas, new inventions and new people. But the Bible takes a slightly different view: “This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” (Jeremiah 6:16).

In this text, God is speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah to a rebellious and wicked people who were willfully defying God though their choice of a lifestyle of idolatry.  They had turned their back on the true and living God by following the sinful practices of other nations. God had consistently warned His people through the prophets regarding the consequences of their defiance against Him. He had promised to send them into captivity because of their unholy ways and spiritual decline.  Specifically, Jeremiah spoke of their impending doom and predicted the fall of the nation of Judah. He warned them of approaching oppression, violence, and the ravaging of their land. Although the Lord informed Jeremiah that the people would not listen to his words, this weeping prophet was faithful to his calling by remembering their covenant with God and calling for a return to the good ways of righteousness.

The ‘good way’ is being willing and ready to do what God wants us to do, even when we may not know exactly what that is. Whenever we come to a crossroad in our life and we need to make a decision – He offers us a choice. We can either receive or reject it. Though His Word, we can reflect on examples of the paths that were followed by the faithful. When Samuel helped the Israelites overcome the Philistines, he took time to stop and reflect on how God had helped him. He built a monument from stone and called it “Ebenezer” which means “By God’s help we have come thus far” (1 Samuel 7:10-13). There are times of challenge and change in each of our lives when we will hopefully meet Jesus at the crossroads. There we will be faced to consider the option of returning to the old ways or be influenced by those who have decided that new is better. Those who take this new position have abandoned the true and living God to serve other gods disguised by titles, materialism, degrees, money, and status, to name a few.

Sadly, we often find that even the Christian church is challenged to look for new or fresh ideas to boost appeal, endeavor to make its message more modernized, or simply to satisfy their own members’ thirst for change. But God isn’t concerned about what’s interesting, exciting, politically correct, or able to be streamlined. He is unlike the world which confuses change with progress, for not all changes or new things are improvements. Those who have their eyes wide open will discover that there is timeless wisdom which cannot be improved upon and is the best path to follow. Paul says that those who do not travel this path “walk in the futility of their own mind, having their understanding darkened, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Ephesians 4:17-18). While we are not called to walk the same ancient path to which Israel was called, we are required to be faithful to our calling; that is, to walk in spirit and truth as outlined in the Word of God. This requires that we make a commitment to grow in grace and in knowledge of the Lord by maturing in the faith we have been taught. So, rather than following the new, simply searchfor the old paths . . . and you will find the good way.

REFLECTION: Consider ways you might have dishonored the Lord by following modern trends? Are you listening for God’s direction and obeying what you hear? Or, are you doing what is right in your own eyes? Are there organizations to which you belong that would be better off if they would just apply some of the old ways? How might you encourage them to do so without appearing to be old-fashioned?

Seen and Unseen

“For we live by believing and not by seeing.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

“Now you see it, now you don’t.”  It’s a phrase we learned as small children. Perhaps it was related to a series of cups and balls where the balls appeared to be shifted from one cup to the other, or disappear entirely. Maybe it was a card trick, when a card you selected ended up in a place you would never have expected. At an early age . . . it was magic! For me, the phrase took on a whole new meaning recently when I was checking out at the local grocery store. The clerk scanned each of my items as they came up the conveyor belt, while down the line a girl was packing my groceries. The teller provided my receipt, and I paused to ask her a question about a store gift card. After a brief conversation, I thanked her and turned away to see an empty cart. I asked the young lady who had been bagging where my groceries were, and she looked at me like I had three heads. Apparently she had loaded my bags into the cart of another customer who had already exited the store, now in possession of a larger order than expected.

We take comfort in and base our understanding on the things that we see, on what we believe to be true. We fully expect, for instance, that when we pay for goods or services that we will receive them. Predictability is important to our way of life, and when that doesn’t occur – our abilities to rationalize and cope become vulnerable, During the growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who never felt anxious became preoccupied with worry and were not sure what to do next. Viral outbreaks are frightening to many people mainly because you can’t see the enemy, in this case the microscopic bacteria that cause you to become infected. However, viruses are not the only things that can’t be seen with the naked eye. The Bible reveals that there is a ‘unseen’ world all around us. In fact, scripture tells us that as persons of faith, we must “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). You might wonder how that could be true, but fortunately the writer, Paul, continues to explain that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” For the Christian, this provides a whole new frame of reference in opposition to that of those who are focused only on the world.

As Believers, we come to realize that he importance of eyesight is true in the physical realm, but it means almost nothing in the spiritual realm. The Israelites saw multiple miracles in the wilderness, but the actual ‘seeing’ seems to not have profited them at all. Consider their experience. There were ten plaques inflicted on Egypt forcing the Pharaoh to allow them to be freed from slavery (Exodus 7:14-12:36). They saw the Red Sea part as well as the pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day to guide them. They saw water coming out of rocks and were provided with manna on the ground daily for forty years. Yet, what they physically saw did not affect their minds, because eyesight means almost nothing in terms of the spiritual. Faith is the foundation, the assurance, the substance, the confidence, of things not seen—the invisible realm of God.  Faith is trusting God for something to happen which we have not seen or experienced before. It was by faith that Noah was warned by God about things he had not yet seen, but in reverence he prepared an ark. By faith, Abraham obeyed God and went out not knowing where he was going. By faith, Sarah received the ability to conceive beyond human possibility (Hebrews 11:7-11).

When we were young – we wanted to have faith in magic, if only for a while. Now that we are ‘grown up’ – we continue to live with tension between what is seen and unseen.  If the things we see are made of things that we cannot see, why then is it so hard to believe that we cannot see the Creator without a proper lens? We must conclude It is only faith that becomes the microscope to satisfy our soul. Saint Augustine brilliantly said, “Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”  It’s often much easier to conform to the commonly-held beliefs and ‘wisdom’ of our culture than it is to trust in things unseen. But it’s the living by faith that God rewards. “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1). We may not see everything we want to see.  But we can see what we need to . . . until it’s the time is right to see more.

REFLECTION: When you consider how you view life – are you looking at the things which are seen, or are you focusing more on those things which are unseen? What would your response be to a skeptic who says, “I don’t believe in miracles because I have never seen one?” How would you explain to a person who is new to the faith that not everything has to be seen in order to believe?

Always Ready to Listen

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

A few years ago, a good friend from high school was diagnosed with cancer. At that time, I had been in touch and prayed for him regularly. He had recovered and it had been a while since we talked, so I decided to give him a call. During our conversation, he spoke at length about the journey he had been on since his remission. Then he went on to say, “There are times that I miss that period when I was so sick and receiving treatments.” I was somewhat shocked by his comment and gently asked him to clarify what he meant.  He said that prior to his illness, he had an established routine. After his diagnosis, he had no regular schedule. There were times that he had to totally rely on the medical professionals and his family for directing his care. It was during this time that he realized how dependent he was on God for healing, if that was to be His will.  Now that he has recovered – he has resumed a daily schedule, although different than before.  He went on to say – “you know when you are in a day-to-day routine, it can become monotonous, and you have to be careful you don’t lose sight of God.”  I think I understood.

In the ensuing days, His point of the importance of maintaining a direct line to God became clearer to me. It was during a frustrating attempt to install a new modem-router to alleviate a monthly cable company rental charge that I became more enlightened.  After making the purchase and connecting the basic inputs – I followed the provided instructions and called the provider to solicit technical support to activate the new hardware.  Bottom line, it took me several hours over the course of three days with four different agents to get everything working properly. In the end, I was finally referred to an individual who resolved my outstanding issues within a short period of time. Lessons learned: 1. Whatever you pay may not necessarily get you where you want to go; 2. Making the right connection is important for everything to function the way it should; 3. You have to find an individual on the other end who is willing to listen and hear the concerns you are experiencing; and 4. You must ultimately locate someone who has the right level of expertise to be able to address those concerns.

Apply all of this, if you will, to our relationship with God.  Take price, for instance. For all who are willing to accept the gift, the cost of that connection has already been paid in full through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God…” (1 Corinthians 6:20). There is no separation between God and us as there was in Jesus’ day when there was a veil in the temple. It was here that only priests could intervene for us in a place known as the Holiest of Holies. But because of the shed blood of Jesus, “through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). Therefore, when we ask for help – we can be assured of His living presence. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). While we can always seek the support from ‘earthly professionals’ – try finding a better expert to address our needs than the God of Creation. For, “It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100:3). He understands what we require more than anyone else could.

Every one of us has at one time or other made a phone call to the direct line of an individual, needing and fully expecting to get an answer on the other end. Frequently, however, our resulting connection is only to their voicemail. With God, it’s far less technical. His ‘direct line’ is only a prayer away; He is practical and has the listening ear that we need. But as is often said, effective communication is a two-way street. Pastor and author Max Lucado wrote: “The next time you find yourself alone in a dark alley facing the undeniables of life, don’t cover them with a blanket, or ignore them with a nervous grin. Don’t turn up the TV and pretend they aren’t there. Instead, stand still, whisper his name, and listen. He is nearer than you think.” Remember that on any ordinary day, the Lord may send a revelation of encouragement, guidance, or instruction to us through the scriptures or another person. As my friend so aptly expressed – we can’t allow ourselves to get so consumed in the day-to-day routine that we lose sight of the fact that God is constantly beside us . . . and that He is always ready to listen.

REFLECTION:  Do you take full advantage of your everyday access to God, or do you wait for those times of desperation to reach out? What are some ways you might draw closer by including Him as a part of your daily routine? How will you monitor your activities to make sure you maintain a regular connection?

Only a Heartbeat Away

“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4)

I once heard about a Christian mother-to-be who was confronted with devastating news from her obstetrician.  Early in her pregnancy the physician was unable to detect a fetal heartbeat, concluding that a miscarriage had occurred. When the young woman told the father about the situation – he became very upset, earnestly praying that the Lord would save his unborn child. When the couple arrived for the scheduled follow-up procedure, the father insisted that the doctor try just one more time to identify a heartbeat. The doctor counseled the couple that he was highly doubtful and that doing so could potentially cause them senseless grief.  But the father remained adamant, and the doctor conceded.  Surprisingly, a fetal heartbeat was detected.  At the end of what would become a full-term pregnancy, a healthy son was born to the couple. Whether at the beginning or end of our earthly existence, the detection of a heartbeat provides the most basic determination of life as we know it.

Early in our nation’s history, Americans expected little from their vice presidents. Therefore, newly elected Vice President John Tyler slipped away unnoticed to his home in Williamsburg, Virginia shortly after the inauguration of President William Henry Harrison. On April 5, 1841, Tyler was sleeping soundly when Secretary of State Daniel Webster’s son Fletcher galloped into Tyler’s front yard at the crack of dawn and hammered on the front door. He delivered the most shocking news—President William Henry Harrison had died.  Because Tyler had been selected only as a means to help balance the ticket, he had harbored no expectations for serving actively in Harrison’s administration. Yet Tyler understood instantly the new role thrust upon him resulting from Harrison’s death, and he hurried immediately to Washington. John Tyler suddenly became the tenth President of the United States, succeeding Harrison who had served for only 31 days. Forcing the nation to confront the death of a president for the very first time, it gave meaning to the phrase that a Vice-President is only a ‘heartbeat away’ from the Presidency.

The reality is that our life on earth is short, and we are reminded of this throughout God’s Word. Moses warned of the curse of disobedience when he stated: “Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive” (Deuteronomy 28:66). As David feared the pursuit of King Saul, he told his friend Jonathan, “Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). Someone once said: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right. Indeed, no one knows the amount of time we have before we die, the amount of time we have to spend with our family, or the amount of time we have to repent and come to the Lord.  Most people think that they will grow old before they die.  However, we all die in our own due time. It is pertinent, therefore that we give thanks to the Lord for each new day and live it for Him. Jesus said: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25).

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we’re only too aware of how fragile life is. Whether our life ends by accident, by force, by illness, or by natural causes – one of these days will indeed be our last, and it is impossible to avoid.  This mortality that we face should cause us to be “awake and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) in the way we spend our time in the things we say and do.  As Christians, we need to make every minute count before our earthly journey is finished.  Just imagine how effective Christians could be if they started to view each day as their last.  Imagine the impact their lives would have because of the conscious choice to prioritize every minute to focus beyond their own selfish and aimless pursuits. As we strive to be as effective as possible in our short lives, perhaps it would be an insightful experience for every believer to ask the question: “If this was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”  Be careful with your answer . . . it might be only a heartbeat away.

REFLECTION: Are you living each day as if it was your last?  What do you think you would do differently to what might simply be a usual day if you knew for sure that it was? In consideration of the fact that life as we know it is only a heartbeat away, how does this help you to prepare for eternity?

A Living Letter from God

“See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11)

Somewhere in your home you may have a box of letters stored away in a forgotten corner. These letters may be filled with happy memories from a loved one, or perhaps they are reminders of a painful chapter in your life. But have you ever received a random letter from a stranger? Everyone has heard of people placing a note in a bottle, throwing it into the ocean, and sometimes asking the receiver to reply to a certain address with the date and place they received it. Jeremiah Burke was one of the passengers on board the RMS Titanic as it sank in the early morning of April 15, 1912. The 19-year-old was traveling to New York with his 18-year-old cousin. Both died in the disaster. As the ship sank, Burke quickly scribbled a letter and put it in a bottle. The bottle ended up few miles from his hometown in Ireland a year later. Then there’s the oldest-known letter in a bottle which was dated June 12, 1886 and tossed into the Indian Ocean. Researchers believe this bottle may have washed up onto land less than a year after it was thrown into the ocean but became buried in the sand until it was found in 2018.

Letter writing has become a lost art in this age of email, texting and cell phones. Hannah Brencher didn’t know whether her handwritten letters to strangers would have much meaning, but they certainly did. At the age of 22, she moved to New York City for what she thought was a dream job and ended up spiraling into a deep depression. Not a Christian at the time and trying to find a way cope with her sadness, she began writing letters on the 4-Train and leaving them around the city in places like bookstores, coffee shops, and libraries for others to find in the lonely city. Hannah’s project took on a life of its own when she made an offer on her blog to handwrite a note and mail it to anyone who wanted one. Her inbox exploded with requests from people all over the world. Nearly 400 handwritten letters later, she started the website, The World Needs More Love Letters. Believing that there is something about receiving a handwritten note that is so powerful in today’s digital era, Brencher states that she partners with God daily as a speaker and author. In her book, If You Find This Letter, her attempts to bring more love into the world chronicles how she rediscovered her faith through the movement she started.

The New Testament includes a lot of letters from spiritual leaders to churches and church leaders. The Book of Revelation includes a set of unique letters, identifying the qualities and characteristics of seven church communities. These letters are revealed by Jesus and delivered through His servant John (Revelation 1:1). Letters played a particular role in the culture of early Christians. A Roman official often carried a letter to a town or province which would give him authority, or status as a servant of Caesar. But Paul tells the Church at Corinth that he needs no such letter.  He says: “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This ‘letter’ is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). The letters of Paul and other apostles have become more than ancient documents containing communications to the early church. They serve as teaching documents to all who believe and have relevancy for us today.

Billy Graham once penned these words: “The Bible is God’s ‘love letter’ to us, telling us not only that He loves us, but showing us what He has done to demonstrate His love. It also tells us how we should live, because God knows what is best for us and He wants us to experience it.”  All believers are called to be “epistles,” or letters from Christ, in the way we live.  As ‘living letters’ we can illustrate how Jesus Christ makes a difference in how we treat others and strive to live with integrity. The letters that Jesus is writing these days are therefore not written by hand. Today they are represented by the words and deeds of His followers. In that way, we won’t end up like some floating bottle whose message might never be read.  We will be an example for all to see . . . and we will truly become a living letter from God.

RELECTION: Can you think of someone who needs encouragement, thanks, or a reminder that you are praying for him or her through an actual handwritten note?  Have you ever considered that as a disciple, you are a letter of Christ to the world? What message are you sending through your words and conduct?

Jesus for Lord and Savior

“God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

As I was reading the local newspaper, a headline in the Letters to the Editor column caught my eye. It simply stated, “Thanks Expressed for Saving Life.”  As I read on, I discovered that the writer was offering deep appreciation to someone she didn’t even know.  Apparently while eating at an area restaurant, she suffered a choking incident. A stranger applied the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging the food blocking her airway. During the course of events which followed, the ‘male hero’ exited the establishment while emergency service personnel took over. In the ensuing days, she went back to the restaurant inquiring as to the identity of this individual. But no one there know who he was. Now in a last-ditch effort to offer her appreciation, she penned the letter in hopes he might see it. While random acts of kindness occur each and every day, it is not often that we have a stranger to thank for our life.

Such was the case for major league baseball veteran Neil Walker.  During annual Roberto Clemente Day celebrations, the infielder often paused to remember that Clemente “literally saved my life.” Neil’s father, Tom Walker, pitched parts of six seasons in the big leagues, and he got to know Clemente playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. He was coming off his rookie season when, on Dec. 31, 1972, Walker was among a handful of ballplayers helping to load a small plane in San Juan with food, clothing and medical supplies, bound for Nicaragua. Clemente was to personally deliver the goods to ensure their safe arrival. Walker begged his idol to let him tag along on the trip, but Clemente urged him and several others to stay. About an hour later – the plane crashed killing everyone aboard, cutting short the career of one of the best baseball players of his era. Had Tom Walker been on that plane, he would not have fathered a son, Neil, 14 years later. Neil played with the Pirates, for whom the Hall of Famer Clemente had starred.

When I was rather young, our family and some friends traveled on several occasions to the Jersey shore. I had not yet learned to swim, so my parents insisted that I wear a flotation device around my waist. It helped me to lift over the waves not far off the beachline. In case I would get knocked over – it would also act as a life-saving device of sorts. As I grew in maturity and deepened in my Christian faith, I learned that there was another lifesaver whose name is Jesus. I came to understand that He is the Son of God who came to earth and died in our place so that we might be forgiven and have eternal life. As scripture states, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Accepting Jesus as one’s personal Savior means placing your faith and trust in Him. For no one is saved by the faith of others or forgiven by doing certain deeds. In order to receive this gift, one must personally act: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Speaking of calls to action, the apostle Jude used a vivid metaphor in describing the critical mission that every true believer has before them; that is to “snatch others from the fire and save them.” It is a paraphrase of what the church calls the Great Commission. Found in Jude 1:23, it is also referred to as the “firemen’s verse.” Jesus calls each of us who have experienced His rescue to willingly put our lives on the line in order to help save others. “This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers” (1 Timothy 4:10). It’s a simple act of gratitude for all who have been given a lifeline to extend it to someone else. As I observe the front lawns and house windows of others – I find it particularly interesting that every four years at this time, people are boldly willing to place signs in an affirmation of support for a particular presidential candidate. I wonder how many of them know Christ and, if so, would they be willing to display such a public pronouncement for Him?  Just imagine the sign as it might appear: “Jesus for Lord and Savior.” He’s got my vote. Does He have yours?

REFLECTION: Have you ever considered what is the worst thing that might happen to you by sharing your faith?  In your circle of relationships, who might benefit from hearing your story of God’s rescue in your life? Will you commit to finding an opportunity to share your story with this person in the coming week?

What a Heavenly Season It Will Be

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

If we are blessed to live a full life, we come to realize that not so different than nature itself – our life is defined by seasons.  Every season is different, each having its own purpose and laying a foundation for the next. While the seasons of nature are somewhat predictable; the seasons of life . . . well, not so much. In the Spring of our life, we are always trying to catch up with our wonderment, the chasing of dreams, and yearning for the hopes of a bright future. Summer is the season of productivity when we attempt to make our mark on the canvas of life. Often these days pass us by far too quickly, and in our busyness – we seldom pause to take in the warmth of the precious moments.  It might not be until Autumn when we take the opportunity to reap the harvest. It may only be then that our life begins to reflect a tapestry, an intricate sequencing of events that for the first time begins to make sense. By this time, many have become grandparents, and what they have learned can be passed on to future generations.

In her book “Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss” – Jenna Bush Hager, the former first daughter and granddaughter, shares stories about all four of her beloved grandparents.  In the course of one year’s time, she and her family lost Barbara and George H. W. Bush as well as Jenna Welch, her maternal grandmother and namesake.  In her writings she remembers the past, cherishes the present, and prepares for the future by reflecting on their ‘passed-on’ wisdom that has helped to shape her life.  In one passage, she recalls the family tradition of walking after dinner to the gate at her grandparent’s home in Maine. Jenna says that there was no purpose for this beyond spending a moment together after a meal, getting a little exercise before bedtime. She writes, “This is what life is all about. Until it’s your time to enter the gates of Heaven and join those in your family who have died, you walk to the gates and walk back. You hope that the sky is clear so that you can see the moon glowing over the ocean. And you hope to always walk with those you love by your side.”

As with life itself, our Christian journey also has its seasons. “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). No doubt Peter well remembered a time when Jesus used the image of an aging person to assess his commitment: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). He would caution us to recognize that life is short (James 4:14) and that the beauty of youth is soon gone (1 Peter 1:24). We should take joyful advantage of all the God-given gifts, talents, wisdom, and opportunities we are provided. As we transition through life’s seasons, we should pause to consider that “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old” (Proverbs 20:29). In doing so, we must recognize that learning from a righteous elderly person is an honor and a privilege. We should listen to them intently and give them the respect that they deserve.

Christian author and speaker Joyce Meyer has stated – “We must remember there are different seasons in our lives and let God do what He wants to do in each of those seasons.” Our activity in this world will be meaningful when we rely on His wisdom, His timing, and His goodness. While the seasons of our lives are not predictable in their intensity or length, they do point to One who never changes and is always dependable—the same, year after year (Hebrews 13:8). Even in those seasons of waiting and darkness, God is there walking with us and will never abandon us to face difficult times alone (Deuteronomy 31:8).  Eventually the season of Winter will arrive for each of us. As it does, we will know that we have made it through to the conclusive season of this earthly life. Hopefully we have transitioned well and find ourselves with a firm foundation of faith.  For we realize that our next Spring will be one of life eternal, as we stand in the presence of He who made us. What a heavenly season it will be!

REFLECTION: If you examined your life right now, what season would you say you are currently experiencing? Are you seeking ways to redeem your current life season for God’s glory? How do you show respect and guidance for those who are in a different season of their life?

A Demonstration of True Tolerance

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)

It was good to see my friend, as we bumped into each other in the parking lot of a local grocery store. We had developed a friendship when we worked together as colleagues for a former employer for which my friend said she could never work again. When I questioned her, she stated that she had developed an intolerance for the work ethic of some of the persons with whom she had supervised. Finding it difficult to work there, she found another job and is now able to provide services on a one-to-one basis while not compromising her own values. I was happy for my friend, recognizing that not everyone would be in a position to act as she did. Unfortunately, conceding one’s personal ethics to a lower standard has in fact become a reality for many who are forced to tolerate today’s ‘anything goes’ culture. The word tolerance has taken on many meanings over time. Not so long ago, tolerance meant to acknowledge that there are those who have differing beliefs and that they have the right to those beliefs. More recently, however, the word tolerance has come to imply you must accept the beliefs that others hold which are different than your own. To do this, you may have to concede in order to keep the peace.

The Lord uniquely created each of us with our own personalities and preferences; therefore, we won’t always agree with one another. However, this doesn’t mean that we are unable to be loving and respectful to each other despite our differences. Those who consider themselves to be Christians must acknowledge that being labeled “intolerant” is at times a part of their faith journey. Suffering is expected, when you stand up for what you believe is right according to the Word of God. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Tolerance does not require acceptance of all ideas as being true; it is merely a willingness to listen. What is remarkable about persons who say Christians are intolerant are those who actually fit the definition themselves. They are often the ones who are unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression to the beliefs or opinions of others. It is they who endorse the old adage, “It’s either my way or the highway”. 

In the Christian experience, there are occasions when intolerance needs to be exercised. As examples, we should not endorse the modern beliefs that all roads lead to God, that truth is ones’ personal concept, or that everyone’s beliefs are valid. Jesus was loving and associated with all kinds of people. However, He confronted immoral behavior and never instructed us to accept other religions as being true. In some situations, Christ was the most tolerant, broad-minded man who ever lived. But on other occasions, He was quite intolerant. He emphatically stated: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We must always keep in mind that there are lost people who need to hear the truth about Jesus. Like the Apostle Paul – we are called to become all things to all people, in order that by our words and actions that many will come to know the Lord. For he said, “I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

The Reverend Billy Graham told the following story: “Once when we were flying from Korea to Japan, we ran through a rough snowstorm. When we arrived over the airport in Tokyo, the ceiling and visibility were almost zero. The pilot had to make an instrument landing. I sat up in the cockpit and watched him sweat it out as a man in the tower at the airport talked us in. I did not want this man to be broad-minded. I wanted him to be narrow-minded. I knew that our lives depended on it. Just so, when we come in for the landing in the great airport in Heaven, I don’t want any broad-mindedness. I want to come in on the beam, and even though I may be considered narrow here, I want to be sure of a safe landing there.” As followers of Christ, we must give careful consideration that while allowing ourselves to show enough open-mindedness to encourage others into the faith – we must not be so broad-minded that we miss the mark and lead them astray. That is effective witnessing . . . it is also a demonstration of true tolerance.

REFLECTION:  Have you found yourself in situations where your tolerance of the actions of others has put you in conflict with your own Christian values?  Would you be willing to take a stand in organizations to which you belong, if you felt there was an inappropriate amount of tolerance shown? What if that organization was your church?

And Pray We Must

“Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)

As I walked to the door of my sunroom, I looked out toward the yard. About 25 feet away, there was one of my neighbors crawling on the sidewalk next to the street.  He was following his young son, who couldn’t be much more than two, doing the same thing. I opened the door, and yelled across the lawn, “Where is a camera when you need one?”  The neighbor just laughed as his son looked back toward me.  Then the boy said, “Come out and crawl with us.”  Thinking I needed to say something appropriate – I simply replied, “maybe some other time.”  As I went back into the house, I chuckled to myself. Then I began thinking how wonderful it was that this father would get down on his bare knees (he was wearing shorts) and crawl on a cement sidewalk, just to meaningfully engage in play with his son.

I was talking with someone recently about a prayer list I maintain, so that I can remember names and situations of those in need. They asked how I find out about these people. “It’s interesting,” I replied. “When people know you pray for others, they will often give you their specifics and ask you to pray for them as well.”  There are times I have received names for my list by simply going for a walk around the neighborhood and allowing myself to become engaged in conversation. It’s amazing how often I have told by an individual for whom I had been praying – “You know I knew someone was, because I could feel it.”  I understood what they meant, because there were times when I had been on the receiving end of the prayers of others and could feel them. There are those who have said to me that they really didn’t know how to talk to God, as though it was some kind of sophisticated or formalized process.  The next time that happens, I will use the example of the neighborhood father and his young son as an illustration. For you see, our conversations with God are not much different than that of a child desiring to be recognized by a loving father who is more than willing to meet them at their level.

When we feel we lack an understanding of how to pray, the Apostle Paul reassures us that the Holy Spirit will search our hearts and pray for us in ways beyond our ability to articulate.  “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans (Romans 8:26, The Message). The important thing to understand is that God wants us to pray and to recognize that our prayers are not for Him but rather for us. For when we pray to our Heavenly Father, we are acknowledging that He is important in our lives. Prayer places the ordinary details of life into divine perspective. On the opening evening of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York began the proceedings with a prayer. Delivered with an image of the New York harbor and the Statue of Liberty in the background, He prayed for our nation with the all-embracing theme . . .  “Pray We Must.”

When we pray we are invited by the Living God to approach Him in intimate conversation, thereby entering into a deepening relationship with Him. While we should pray specifically for ourselves and for others in need, there will also be times we must pray for the greater good. When we feel that we are living in a nation divided . . . we must pray for healing. When we hear about missionaries in other countries being persecuted or the right of others to pray in public places being denied . . . we must pray for those who are suffering for His sake. Who knows how our prayers might serve as comfort to those who are in harm’s way, such as members of the military, emergency responders, or disaster relief workers? Whether one is a new believer or an established one, prayer is a way to acknowledge who is really in control of our lives. When we become practiced at prayer, it becomes like breathing. Prayer is our primary means of seeing God at work, for “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16). Bottom line, our Heavenly Father will meet us where we are when we reach out to Him. If we want to make a difference in our life and the lives of others . . . pray we must!

REFLECTION: Have there been times you have stopped praying because you felt that God was not listening? Are there occasions when you want to pray for a world situation but think it is too massive to make a difference? How might you be more intentional in your prayer life, allowing for God’s will?

Because He Said He Would

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)

Every four years, the major political parties in the United States come together to announce their candidates for President. Like many others before them who contest for elective political offices, they make unrealistic promises they know they cannot fulfil. Living up to what one has promised often becomes difficult, yet there are some who take it very seriously.   When Bill McCartney retired as the head coach of the University of Colorado Boulder football team in 1994, his reason was not because he was unsuccessful as a coach. His teams had won the national championship, and they had been in the top ten many times. McCartney said that he was retiring because he wanted to reconsider what was important. He said, “I’m leaving coaching, and I’m going to take a whole year to re-evaluate my priorities. Is God first? Is my family second? Is my work third?” And when that year was over, Bill McCartney had dedicated his life and talents to Christ, giving importance to “Promise Keepers” – a Christian men’s group which he had founded. The organization places particular emphasis on marital fidelity and fatherhood, promoting efforts to “help men keep their promises.”

In Jesus day, keeping vows and promises were not always taken seriously. The religious leaders advocated keeping a vow if it was a public vow using God’s name. However, if the vow was made in the course of everyday conversation, referencing only “heaven” or “earth” or “Jerusalem” – it was not really binding. Therefore, people could lie or exaggerate in their conversations and lend themselves an air of credibility by saying, “I swear by heaven that this is true!”  While they could not be held to account because they did not specifically swear by God’s name, Jesus disputed that putting forth the idea that if you swear something – it had better be true. In fact, Hs stated: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). Bottom line…your word should be good, because His was. One of His chosen stated it this way: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Alex Sheen strongly believes in keeping the promises he makes. In his case, he proposed to honor his late father for whom ‘keeping one’s word’ was a very important character trait – one that he had instilled in his son. Alex was so moved by how his father used this trait as an inner compass that he began a small movement called “because I said I would.” He began to spread this teaching to others by encouraging writing promises on small cards and posting them in places as reminders to live up to their commitments, just as he had been taught by his father. As one of the world’s foremost experts on accountability and commitment – Alex became a speaker, author, podcast host, internationally recognized humanitarian and founder of the “because I said I would” crusade.  His promise cards have been requested in more than 150 countries. The stories resulting from these “promises made…promises kept” have shared practical life lessons inspiring lives around the world.

Corrie ten Boom, famous for her biography The Hiding Place once wrote, “Let God’s promises shine on your problem.” So just how many promises are there? According to one account, there are over 3500 promises in the Bible. Some of these were limited to certain situations and persons, such as the one to give Abraham and Sarah a son at an old age (Genesis 17:16). However, many more are intended for all believers, like God’s promise to never leave or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). If we claim one of the Lord’s promise with the right spirit and pure motives, we will honor Him, receive what we ask, and grow in intimacy with our loving Father. In a changing world where vows are often broken, it’s reassuring that followers of Christ serve a God who keeps His word . . . because He will always do what He said He would.                                                                                                                                                         

REFLECTION:  What promises are you standing on? Are you seeking this promise with a spirit of submission to the will of God? If you are not holding on to one of God’s promises, ask the Lord to show you particular promises that are relevant to your life. What then will be your next steps in applying them each day?