Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Assumptions and Initiating, Listening and Trusting

In some ways Moses reminds me of me.  That is a good thing ~ mostly.
  • He knows his identity.  I know mine.
  • He cares for his people.  I care for our family.
  • He initiates.  I initiate.  We both assume we can help.
  • He is misunderstood.  Sometimes I am too.
  • He hears from God.  I do too ~ some days.
The account of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 reminding me of the history of Israel stopped me in my tracks when I came to the part about Moses. 

Since infancy Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s household.  He “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” Acts 7:22.  Yet he knew he was an Israelite, one of the children of God.  That identity evoked in him a heart for his people, his family of origin.  That is a good thing. 

That identity springs him into action on a visit to his brothers.  When he observes one of his brothers being wronged, Moses quickly takes control.  And therein lies the problem.  “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.”  Acts 7:25.    Big lesson ~ ministry does not come from role or position or family of origin. 

I get that.  I too suppose that my words or my actions are exactly what are needed and so I initiate.  Wrong!  I’m learning, just because I’m her sister or her cousin or her friend or her leader does not mean that my good intentions (my ministry) will be understood and appreciated.  Arrrgh!

Big lesson #2 ~ ministry is not on my timetable.  Arrrgh again!  Forty years later, when Moses is 80 years old, Moses hears from God at the burning bush.  He is amazed; he trembles; he is afraid to look AND he draws near.  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8.  It was a holy moment.  God initiates.  Moses listens.

When God initiates, ministry happens.  Big lesson #3 ~ ministry is a result of listening to God and trusting His words.  I love Acts 7:35 and 36, “This Moses, whom they rejected … this man God sent… This man led them out …”.  God gave Moses his heart for his people.  God honored Moses’ desire for them.  Moses just had to listen to God and follow His initiating.  And he does so for the next forty years!  Ministry happened.

Big lesson #4 ~ when God leads, God enables.  It doesn’t matter if you’re 120 years old!  This is encouraging.  I’m not 120, but I am a gramma!  Not only does He enable, He is “able to do far more abundantly …!” Ephesians 3:20. 

Big lessons #2 and 3 is where I am living right now.  I’m learning to draw near and listen.  I’m learning to trust.  For an initiator like me, these are big lessons.  What about you?

“They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,”
Psalm 92:14

Friday, June 17, 2011

Questions for Self

Asking myself questions helps me to tune into what God might be saying to me.  The questions came fast as I thought about Psalm 23 the last several weeks.  I’m still pondering and these are some that are helping me ponder.

  • Am I trusting today that the Lord is my shepherd?
  • Am I looking around to others to get my needs met or to the Lord who is my shepherd?
  • Do I trust the order of Psalm 23 that when I need the green pastures, then my next need is the still waters AND ONLY THEN the paths of righteousness?
  • If I would insert myself into Psalm 23, where would I be … in the green pastures; beside the still waters; experiencing His leading in the paths of righteousness; experiencing His rod and staff; at the table; etc?
  • OK, when I know where I am.  Can I discern the next step?
  • What do the green pastures and/or the still waters look like for me?
  • Is my soul in a place of restoration?
  • Am I trusting that the hard things in my life right now are not affecting His paths of righteousness for me?
  • Can other people answer these questions for me?  
I think I know the answer to that last question.  Sometimes, but not often.   My gut feeling is most of the time I need to answer them for myself.  And I’m working on that.

What helps you ponder the truths of Scripture?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened. … how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Matthew 7:7 - 11

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Benediction, Devo 5, Psalm 23

In the benediction at the end of our church services, one of our former pastors always used to repeat the big truths of his sermon.  It was so helpful.  David does that in this Psalm.  His benediction starting with “Surely goodness and mercy …” in verse six is the result of our Lord being our shepherd which is how he started in verse one.  

Psalm 23 has come full circle.  The truth at the beginning is re-phrased at the end.  Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.

* He knows me intimately.  He knows when I need to stop and lie down and enjoy the beauty around me. 
* He knows how to restore me when I am depleted.
* He leads me on my journey.  Sometimes I don’t understand the paths He chooses.  But I can trust them    because they are ultimately for His glory.
* He walks with me through the valleys of life.  I love the picture of footprints in the sand.  At first there are two sets of footprints beside each other.  Then there is only one set.  When questioned about that, the Lord says, “That’s when I picked you up and carried you.”  Sometimes life is so heavy I need to be carried. 
* He uses all the best equipment for my benefit.  His rod is to protect me.  His staff is there when I need something extra to lean on.
* He celebrates me as if I am his guest even in the midst of enemies.  He anoints my head with oil.  I have only been anointed with oil once.  It was very significant.  It communicated to me God’s good plan for me.

Because of all this, I can have confidence that goodness and mercy are following me and I am dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, for now and eternity.  This is the bow on the package that is filled with the shepherd’s good gifts for me.

Dwelling ~ I love that word.  Another psalmist uses the word dwell and says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  Psalm 91:1and 2.  In my mind, these two verses are a wonderful summary of Psalm 23.  Dwell is restated as abiding.  I’m abiding the God’s shadow.  God is a refuge and a fortress and trustworthy. 

Trusting again is the key.  Trusting for me comes alive in my prayer life.  And when life is so hard I can’t pray, trusting is asking a friend to walk with me and pray for me.

“Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”
Psalm 23:6, The Message

Monday, June 13, 2011

Even Though, Devo 4, Psalm 23

Within the last few weeks, Steve’s grandmother died, Sandy’s mom died, the full-term grand-daughter of another friend was still-born, and the 35 year old nephew of still another good friend was found dead.  These friends are walking through the valley of the reality of death.  I’m walking with them.

And all deaths are not physical.  Our son experienced the death of his job this past winter.  Other friends are living with the death of their plans to be agricultural missionaries as their young daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia last week.  Another friend is experiencing the death of his dream to play football his senior year of college because he broke his foot.  It was also the death of his summer job.  And the list goes on.

Life is full of death.  Hard things, really hard things.

“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...”  Then David says an amazing thing, “…I will fear no evil.   How can he say that?  How can he believe that? 

He can say that and post it for all of us to be encouraged by because he trusts who God says He is and what God is doing in and for him. 

  • He believes that God is with him even though he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  He knows God is omnipresent. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;” .  David trusts the God who says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;”.  Isaiah 43:2a.  Even in the valley, I am not alone.
  • David knows that his shepherd carries a rod and a staff.  And that is a comfort to him.  The rod is a rod of protection.  It could be used to protect the sheep from other predators.  Or at times it could be used to protect the sheep from themselves.  The staff provides support.  Like a modern day cane, the staff is there to provide the support needed to help the shepherd traverse the rough terrain.  Another Psalmist declares, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Psalm 46:1
  • David also knows that the hard things, those things that can appear as enemies are powerless to prevent him from enjoying God’s good provision for him.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” Psalm 23:5  I’ve heard it said “every cloud has a silver lining”.  It sounds trite, but I think it’s true.  Even though David never read Paul’s words, in his heart he knew, “And we know that for those who love God all things word together for good, …” Romans 8:28a
  • Lastly, he believes these truths because he knows God personally.  In the beginning of this Psalm David refers to God in the third person, “he”.  But when he passes the “even though” and life is really hard, God is referred to as “you”.  David has a personal relationship with God and it is especially personal in the hard times.  “… you are with me; your rod and your staff; …You prepare a table …you anoint my head with oil; …”  
But the rub is the timing.  When will I experience the truth of Romans 8:28 when I’m in the midst of the valleys?  I wonder if the people from Jerusalem who were being held captive in Babylon wondered the same thing.  Part of their story is recorded in Jeremiah 29.  For me, I have to remember three things:
  • I have to keep reviewing the truths of Scripture even though sometimes they are hard to believe.  I often find myself praying, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24
  • I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have the big picture.  God does.
  • Sometimes when I'm in the midst of a hard thing, I find it difficult to pray.  I'm thankful for friends I can call on who will pray for me and for the situation.
“Even when the way goes through Death Valley,
I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.
Psalm 23:4 and 5, The Message

To be continued

Friday, June 10, 2011

Paths of Righteousness ~ DEVO 3, Psalm 23

For the second time in the first three verses of this Psalm, David uses the word, leads.  The first leading came beforeHe restores my soul”.  This leading comes after.  I think the order is significant.

The first leading is by still waters.  This leading is an inner leading.  It ministers to me, to my soul.  I don’t think of it as a directional leading rather a spiritual leading.  I hear God’s word speaking to my heart.

The second leading is in “paths of righteousness”.  This leading gives direction and moral guidance.  I think of God whispering, “your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, this is the way, walk in it”.  Isaiah 30:21. 

I find it interesting that the word “paths” is plural.  There must be more than one possible path of righteousness.  One commentator suggested that this means that some paths lead down and some lead up. That would be easy for me to illustrate with stories from my life and the lives of my friends. 

This was a very hard path for me.  I was engaged and had asked two girlfriends to be bridesmaids.  They said yes ~ at first.  Then they backed out.  I was very hurt. And our friendship was damaged as well. But that very hard path led to a wonderful path.  It took a few years, but God allowed those relationships to be healed.  My friendship with those girls today is more special because of the hard path we traveled together.  The healing path was definitely a path leading up.

So was the down path a path of righteousness?  It certainly did not seem so at the time.  However if it wasn’t for the down path, the up path would not have happened and that path was a path of righteousness.  The two were connected. 

And the paths of righteousness are not about me. My friendship with my friends now is a bonus.  The paths are for “His name sake.”  They are designed to lift God up, to honor Him.  God is definitely honored in the reconciliation of His children.  And my friends and I are able to display His glory because we followed His paths.

“True to your word,
You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.”
Psalm 23:3, The Message

To be continued

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Green Pastures + Still Waters = A Restored Soul ~ DEVO 2, Psalm 23

Last week we were visiting friends who live on a small lake in Illinois.  What a treat to sit on their deck and enjoy the still water.  There was a slight breeze that created a few small ripples across the water.  It wasn’t totally still. It was fun watching the geese enjoy the lake.  And as the sun set in the west the color of the water deepened and quieted.  Just watching the water was like taking a long cold drink on a hot day.  Refreshment!

When I think about Psalm 23:2, He makes me lie down in green pastures, I think, He is causing me to stop and to take advantage of His good provision. Sometimes that is my biggest need ~ to stop.  I usually use the first few minutes of my devos to “sit and stare”; at least that is what I call it.  It’s a time of stopping.  I’m not reading; I’m not praying; I’m just sitting and staring.  My favorite chair is placed very strategically so my staring is toward God’s beautiful creation.  This time of year, I love having my devos outside in God’s creation.  But my sitting and staring comes to an end.  The stop part of my devo leads into the next part ~ the still waters.  When I think of the phrase, He leads me beside still waters, I think, there is movement.  God is leading. But the leading is by still waters.  It is a slow, gentle leading.  Often the leading reflects some new thought from a very familiar passage.  It is leading that is appropriate for the moment.  It is restorative leading.  It is different from the leading I experience after my soul is restored.

When the green pastures and the still water do their work in my life, the result is a restored soul.  

I find I need the green pastures and the still waters on a regular basis.  Life is busy.  Life is hard.  I need the perspective of my shepherd that I get in the green pastures and beside the still waters.   

There are times for me when the green pastures and the still waters last a loooong time.  Sometimes I’m not even aware that I need the green pastures and the still waters.  But God is.  And often God orchestrates the circumstances of my life, so I can enjoy His green pastures and still waters.  Sometimes I don’t welcome those times; but always as they come to an end, I’m very thankful for the wisdom of God in my life.  The resulting restoring of my soul is a good place to be. 

The Hebrew word, shalom, which in the Old Testament is often translated welfare is an apt description of what a restored soul looks like to me.  It refers to all aspects of peace and plenty.  I have experienced the Lord as my shepherd.  I have everything I need.

“You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
 you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word, you let me catch my breath”
Psalm 23:2and 3a

To be continued

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

DEVOs, TEVOs and The 23rd Psalm

“Devo” ~ what in the world was my friend talking about?  My spell-check doesn’t even recognize that word.  (I know what Tevo is.)  But I didn’t ask; I watched.  Ahhhh, "devo" is short for devotions.  I enjoy devos almost every day.  I just wasn’t up to speed on the new term for my quiet time.  (And I thought technology was hard to keep up with!)  Later in the week, we were in a small shop and there on the book display was a book called 365 Devos for Boys.  It was a Veggie Tale book.  LOL (I do know what that means) ~ even young kids would know about devos!  I bought the book.

In the last several months my devos have taken me back again to Psalm 23.  Although I had the Psalm memorized as a child, I’ve been hearing from God in new ways recently as I’m pondering its familiar words.  It’s hard for me to read this Psalm without plugging in a current personal story, usually one that is hard to understand.  This time I’m entitling this Psalm …

Psalm 23 and the Will of God

As I’ve pondered the words of David, some new thoughts and questions are surfacing.  First there seems that the order of the statements that David is making is not only logical but really important.

Verse 1, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  This seems to be the premise of the entire Psalm.  Years ago one of my girlfriends used to sing Psalm 23 and in her song the words of this verse were translated, Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything that I need.  That communicates the premise well to me.  But the question I have to ask myself is, “Do I trust that premise?”  “What would it look like to live today in a way that communicates I believe the Lord is my shepherd and because of that I do have all that I need?”  If I don’t trust these opening words, the rest of the Psalm will not make sense.

In verses 2 and 3, the verbs take center stage for me, makes, leads, restores, leads.  I find it interesting that leads is used twice, once before restore and once after.  Again the order stood out to me.  He (The Lord) makes me and leads me and then He restores and then He leads again. 

Verse 2a, He makes me lie down in green pastures.  Lying down is a good thing.  I lie down at night to sleep and restore physically.  I lie down on a star studded night to gaze at the stars and try to identify constellations.  I lie down in the snow to make a snow angel.  I lie down in the cool green grass and enjoy a summer day. But sometimes God needs to make me lie down.  I’m not naturally doing what is good for me.  Bill and I experienced that happening about twelve years ago when God seemed to “pull the plug” on our lives and Bill went through a time of burnout and depression.  We didn’t see it coming, but we should have.  God was giving clues that lying down in green pastures was what was needed to restore spiritually and emotionally.  But we were so busy with life we didn’t discern God’s leading and our need.  So God made us lie down by bringing physical circumstances that we couldn’t ignore.  It was a good thing.

At the time the green pastures didn’t seem very green to us.  It was a discouraging time.  But lying down for those months was exactly what was needed. The green pasture was our home.  It allowed us to come to the still waters…

“God, my shepherd!  I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,”
Psalm 23:1 and 2, The Message

 to be continued

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Breakfast with Jesus

I have heard my husband use this phrase referring to the time in the morning when one has their quiet time or their devotions.  It sounds a bit funny to me but after yesterday morning, I’m thinking it’s an appropriate descriptor. 

Yesterday a friend and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast outside with a view of a small lake.  The scenery was delightful.  The time with my friend was wonderful.  We talked and caught up.  We spent some time reading Psalm 1 together.  We prayed together.  Ahhhh, the gift of fellowship.  Our time flew by.

Just as I loved breakfast with my friend yesterday, I also love the time I spend in the mornings having “breakfast with Jesus”.  But it hasn’t always been that way.

I can’t remember a time that I did not believe in God.  But for many years, God and Christianity defined my religion ~ I was a Christian.  It was a piece of my life that was usually confined to Sundays.  During my college years my religion morphed into a relationship with God or a friendship with God.  This new relationship now defined who I was.  And with the new relationship came new activities … like having a quiet time. 

And for a long time that’s what my quiet time was ~ an activity that I added to my schedule.  It was a task.  It could be checked off the list.  It was a seed.  It usually included reading somewhere in my Bible and spending some time praying.  It was rather mechanical.  If you asked me later in the day what that time had meant to me, I would have been hard-pressed to give an answer.  My motivation was I’m a Christian, I should do this. 

But I’m learning that “shoulds” are not a very good motivation for anything!  I’m thankful that my motivation has changed to I desire to have a quiet time and enjoy breakfast with Jesus.  My quiet time is no longer that activity or that task that I added to my morning, it has become time with a special friend.  It is a joy for me that I look forward to.  The seed that I was planting in those early years has bloomed into a special part of my day.  Although the basic activities of my quiet time have changed little, it is no longer mechanical, it is organic.  I am meeting with the God who is alive and active in every part of my life. 

The transformation of this time centers on the word trust. 
  • I learned to trust my identity as the beloved child of the Father. That was the starting point of the transformation of my quiet time. For me, trusting was reviewing the scriptures that spoke of my identity as a primary focus of my quiet time. 
  • As I learned to trust what God said about me, the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me what I was believing about myself.  That led to replacing those beliefs with the truths of scripture and learning to trust what God said about me instead of my insecure thoughts. 
  • I’m learning to ask this question as part of my quiet times, “God, what would it look like for me to trust you today?”  Often, the answer to that prayer comes to me immediately.  Other times not.  But either way, trusting the God who loves me is transforming my quiet time from the mechanical to the organic, from the “should” to the desire of my heart
I loved Heather’s words in her blog June 2.  It will take you about one minute to read it.

“And without faith (trust) it is impossible to please God.”
Hebrews 11:6