A Time and a Time

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I was mesmerized by the afternoon western sky, sun obviously blazing as it hid behind thick clots of clouds, rays streaming out in stiff white angles to the right and left, resplendent. But coming down from the center, straight into the ocean, were grey rays in a curtain of rain in the same stiff lines.

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Isn’t this a picture of the ordinary afternoons of our lives? Sometimes they are warm with joy and light- a sweet text from a friend, a confirmed business agreement, a meaningful and edifying conversation, a hard task completed to satisfaction. And sometimes it rains. It rains shivery and cold, or lonely, sad, oppressive, or stop-and-ponder-what-you-really-need-to-be-doing rain. But in either time, whatever the weather, the Sun of Righteousness reigns and is radiating His light, whether we see it or feel its warmth and comfort or not. Just as we know the sun is always shining, we know this is true of our God. (Malachi 4:2)

Lord of creation, keep my heart fixed on You, not the sun or rain You send in my circumstances. Keep me steady no matter what comes, trusting that all that emanates from Your loving hands is a gift to savor for this season.

 

Laying Aside Weight

Cast your burden on the Lordand he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Psalm 55:22; Hebrews 12:1-2

As I walked to the beach with two precious children, laden with baskets of shovels and sand toys, one remarked after two blocks, “This is getting so heavy!” Isn’t it true that a burden, not added to at all, increases in heaviness the longer we carry it? This is like our sin habits, our long-held grievances against others, our bitterness, complaining attitude, negative outlook, secretly-nurtured worldliness or selfish indulgences. The longer we bear them, the more they weigh us down, making slow our progress, heavy our steps of faith, damp our joy, dim our outlook. Often what we were just ‘carrying,’ thinking it a necessity or a right, becomes a true and miserable burden.

Oh, Christian, cast your burden on Him Who bore the full load of our sin on the cross! Be unencumbered and free! His way is good and His load is light! (1 Peter 2:24; Matthew 11:28,30)

Lord, thank You for bearing the weight of my sin that I need not carry it or be entangled by it. Keep me kicking it off, laying aside all that would hinder me from staying focused on You, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and following You wholeheartedly. Because of You I can run with endurance the race You have for me.

After the Locusts, What God Can Do

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lordreturn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster… ‘The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.'” Joel 2:12-13,24-25

Merciful relenting, anger that is slow but abounds in unshakeable love, abundance and restoration– these seem confusing promises and absolute impossibilities to us when the locusts have eaten away everything, when we see the devastation of wildfires, the ruin of a marriage, brokenness of families and friendships and ravaged bodies. But though we cannot understand how, or know when, these are what God is able to do, and does.

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“‘You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.'” (Joel 2:26,27) In God’s providence, in His eternal plan and economy, this restoration is brought about not that we fall back on comfort and plenty for our own sake, or depend on physical rehabilitation or replacement or a new start, but that we may recognize the Redeemer, know the Giver, and praise Him. He restores right desires, He redeems passions of the heart and flesh, He redirects life aims, He heals the wounded and ailing, He rebuilds what we have willingly or unknowingly ruined in relationships. We may never know the joy of full restoration in this life, yet we can know it is certain and is accomplished in His eternal scheme. We can take comfort. What a mighty Redeemer is He!

Great Restorer, You take notice of the ruin in our lives, and are able to repair the breaches and bring back to glad fruitfulness. Though flesh and heart may fail, You are the strength of our hearts and portion forever. Return all of me to You, and give me eyes to see in faith how beautifully and supernaturally You rebuild, in the now and for eternity, for Your grand purposes and glory. (Ruth 4:15; Isaiah 58:12; Psalm 73:26)

God’s Pleasure

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry. His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.” Psalm 147:4-5,8-11; 149:4

Do we not marvel that in all creation, and the magnificent creatures God Almighty has made, His pleasure is in those He knows, who know Him? I delight in the strength of the horse–its sinewy muscles and regal countenance. I delight in the twinkling stars and crescent moon in the dark sky, in His majesty I see in grass on hills, the pristine snow, a waterfall, the expansiveness of wide beach and sea, and I believe He gives us that delight because in these beauties we see His creative power and eternal love. But we, His people, are the crown of His creation, and His pleasure is us! Wondrous thought! All else He made for us, yet He made us for Himself.

Lord, may I delight this day that You delight in me. In all I see and experience- senses to enjoy wind chimes in the cool fall breeze, the flip-flop of the heart in a grandchild’s new-tooth smile, the sweetness of blueberries- let me see Your lovingkindness and praise You for coming after me. You have made me for Yourself, called me by name, and I am precious in Your eyes. May I delight in You as You delight in me. (Isaiah 43:1-2,4-7)

O, To Be a Gabriel!

“While [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.’

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. For nothing will be impossible with God.’” Luke 1:8-9,11-14;26-33,37

While I often read this account and marvel at how these women, one old and barren and the other a virgin, felt upon receiving Gabriel and his life-altering news that they would bear children, this morning I ponder Gabriel. What a privilege to be God’s messenger, to be assigned to speak for Him directly to those God indicated, with truth that brought great (if not shocking) joy! Not only is Luke’s account inspired, but Gabriel’s very words were God-breathed promises to these unsuspecting women.

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We know we are created human and not angels, but God has given us the glad task of announcing His good news that changes lives, of telling others not to be afraid, new life is available, nothing is impossible with Him, all He promises will come to pass. How eagerly do I deliver His word? (Hebrews 1:7,14; Romans 10:14-15; Proverbs 30:5)

Father, Author of all good news, connect me so closely to You that I know Your word and readily, with bold joy and without delay, announce it to those You appoint for me. Make me a Gabriel, a minister to others, serving at Your bidding.

Purposeful Choices

Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet? Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing?
Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing? Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” Amos 3:3-6

This passage, written by the shepherd Amos, describes cause and effect he has observed in his pastoral profession. He is perceptive to recognize them from both vantage points: we accomplish with others what we plan and agree to do, and all that happens is a result of first being set in place. Over all is God the Sovereign, Who has good plans that He puts in motion piece by piece. He intends that we be purposeful in the decisions we make, understanding the times and the likely results of our choices.

Obedience and charitable living don’t just happen; they must be intentional. My natural penchant to sloth or selfishness will always win out without my deliberately offering my body a living sacrifice to God. My limited vision and horizontal thinking will always propel my choices unless replaced with the mind of Christ and His eternal perspective. My heart will spill over in crabby ugliness and sharp words unless it is clean through and through. (Romans 7:25;12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 6:13-18; Luke 6:45; Psalm 51:10)

In the same vein, discord, misunderstanding, discouragement, irritability are often the result of complaining, focusing on the negative, ingratitude, a huffy demeanor, expectation of the worst in others. We set the trap by rolling the eyes, sighing in condescension, belittling others, and griping– how can we be surprised at escalating tensions and sour results? When we feed on what stirs fear and arouses anger, through conversation or an appetite for media, how can we expect peace and contentment?

Gracious God, You are the One Whose purposes are redemptive and always good. Please grant me understanding to make wise plans and the will to execute according to Your purposes. Make me keen to discern the results of my choices, and cause me to make those that bring glory to You. (Daniel 2:11)

(Sunshine) in Parentheses

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Isaiah 60:1; Matthew 5:14,16

For some reason, the translation of my voice texting comes out with the word (Sunshine) capitalized and in parentheses, and it makes me smile…. and wonder. Is that how we live? Is cheerfulness measured or guarded, doled out to only those we deem deserving? Is a bright attitude parenthetical and dependent on circumstances, or joy an afterthought? Is shining light only an (occasional) Formal action rather than a lowercase, stream-of-the-mill, tucked-into-my-everyday-living response to other image-bearers, and to the bounty God gives?

I think, too, how the sunshine is sometimes obscured in the clouds, tucked away like words in parentheses, yet we know its warmth and light and power are there. It still adds meaning and has a purpose. When the clouds are snow- laden and heavy, the hidden sun still keeps the earth on course. I don’t want the light to be hidden, but know it exists when I see it not, and that’s a benefit to parenthetical (Sunshine)- heightened awareness of the faith required to trust the unseen.

LORD my light, when matters out of my control seem to squelch the light, please be gracious and make Your face shine on me, that I may be an unreserved, blazing sun full of your fire, reflecting Your glory. (Psalm 27:1; 67:1)