“Remember That You Are Dust”

Good morning. Today is Wednesday, the second of March, 2022, in the season of Lent.

May the peace of Christ be with you today!

Day 23,365

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is the forty-day season leading up to the celebration of Easter, or, as I prefer to call it, Resurrection Sunday. The Fat Tuesday parties are over, the revelry is complete. Today, the fasts begin. Many people will give up meat for Lent. I understand that is a common practice, especially among Catholics.

If you recall yesterday’s blog, I discussed a few things I might be looking at “giving up” for Lent. The thing is, I don’t believe it to be a coincidence that I read the selection on fasting that I read yesterday, of all days. And while I realize that the purpose of that specific selection was not necessarily driven by the idea of being critical, it certainly struck home for me.

This year, for Lent (which I do not always technically “observe”), I have two goals in mind. One is physical. I am giving up candy for Lent. Laugh or chuckle if you want, but candy has been a serious downfall for me, in recent weeks. M&Ms, Heath bars, Hershey “Nuggets,” and other forms of chocolate, mainly. Those will be eliminated from my diet for at least forty days.

I also have a spiritual or mental goal. I plan to fast from being critical for at least forty days. That’s right. I’m going to try to not criticize anything or anybody for at least forty days. If you know me, you know that the only way I can accomplish this is by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t promise that I won’t have any critical thoughts, mind you. Sometimes, those thoughts can’t be prevented. However, as Dallas Willard reminds us, we humans have a unique ability. We are the only creatures on the planet who have the ability to control what we allow our minds to dwell on. So that means that, when a critical thought pops into my brain (and I say “when” not “if”), it will be my duty to stop it in its tracks, “nip it in the bud,” as it were.

We got our new bed, yesterday, and got it assembled before I went to work at the library. It’s very nice, and works just like S’s bed and the one we got for Mama’s room (I wonder . . . will we still call it R’s room?). Head and feet raise and lower, and it has vibrator massages on both ends. Plus each side has four USB ports for device charging! I didn’t sleep real great, last night, sadly, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the new bed. Hopefully, tonight will be better.

We also made the decision, yesterday, after conversing with the A/C tech, to go ahead and replace our systems. We will be getting a 5-ton A/C unit that provides, I believe, 18 seer (I have no idea what that means), and is variable speed instead of single speed. That means it should be more efficient and save us somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35% on our electricity in the summertime. The work will be done next Wednesday. Total cost for the whole shebang is roughly $12,500. Yikes.

Before I head into today’s devotional, I want to share an article by one of my long-time favorite singer/songwriters, Carolyn Arends. I remember her from years ago, when she broke into the CCM arena after having been a staff songwriter for a label. She had a number of successful albums and singles and then kind of faded (or so I thought) for a bit. Or maybe I just lost track, I don’t know. She resurfaced a decade or so ago as a major player in one of my favorite Christian organizations, Renovare. And by “major player,” I mean leader. I’m not talking about musically, I’m talking spiritually. And Carolyn has really shined (shone?) in this role. Well, what I want to share, today, is a recent article she wrote about Ash Wednesday. It’s called “I Was An Ash Wednesday Rookie.” It really resonates with me because our backgrounds are similar, at least church-wise.

I probably won’t be attending an Ash Wednesday service today. I wish I could, but it’s my Wednesday to work at the Hurst Public Library (circulation desk), and we don’t leave the library until 6:15. All of the services I can find start at 6:30, and I don’t think I could make it in time. Maybe next year, because I would really like to attend one, someday.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we,
worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you,
the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God,
for ever and ever.
Amen."
(Collect for Ash Wednesday, The Book of Common Prayer)
Jesus said to them again, 
"Peace be with you. 
As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 
And when he had said this, 
he breathed on them 
and said to them,
 "Receive the Holy Spirit. 
(John 20:21-22 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the season of Lent, as we prepare for Resurrection Sunday
2. for the many saints in my life that have inspired me and brought me to the spiritual place I am today
3. for the life and peace that Jesus breathes into us
4. for the reminder that I am dust
5. that life doesn't end here
'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 
Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? 
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'  
(Isaiah 58:3-9 ESV)

This is the scripture passage that is brought forth in Spiritual Classics, after presenting the selection by Catherine Marshall that I summarized yesterday. The people question the fact that they fast, but it seems to get no results. God answers by questioning the validity of their fast.

The purpose of the reading, again, was not so much to highlight the critical nature (although that is what spoke so loudly to me), but to center on the discipline of fasting. And what better time to arrive at this place than the beginning of the Lenten season?

And, as I read the passage from Isaiah, one of my initial reactions tends to lean toward being critical toward the church of today, but I am stopping those thoughts and not going there. Rather, I will focus on what I can do to accomplish this “fast” of which the Lord speaks. What can I do to help loose the bonds of wickedness, to break every chain, and free the oppressed? What can I do to share my bread with the hungry and my home with the homeless (there’s a scary thought, right there), and to cover the naked? The passage indicates that, when we are successfully doing these things, our cries will be heard.

As the week progresses, there will be questions and suggested activities, and a final thought from one of the writers of the book.

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

There is a common misconception that our “religion” is a “private matter.” And while much of what goes on in “religion” concerns matters of the heart, it cannot help but spill out into real life.

“Every movement we make in response to God has a ripple effect, touching family, neighbors, friends, community. Belief in God alters our language. Love of God affects our relationships. Hope in God enters into our work. Also their opposites – unbelief, indifference, and despair. None of these movements and responses, beliefs and prayers, gestures and searches, can be confined to the soul. They spill out and make history. If they don’t, they are under suspicion of being fantasies at best, hypocrisies at worst.” ~ Eugene H. Peterson

The book of Philemon is a perfect picture of the truth of this. One of the single chapter books of the New Testament, it involves a letter from Paul to a slave owner named Philemon, who is a brother in Christ. It turns out Paul has come in contact with a runaway slave of Philemon’s, named Onesimus, who has, apparently because of Paul’s ministry, also become a Christian! As Paul writes to Philemon, it is apparent that this relationship between Philemon and Onesimus has to change, because they are now brothers in Christ. And Paul is sending Onesimus back to him, with instructions on how this has to change!

It is in situations like this that Christianity is proved to be real or, as Peterson said, “fantasies . . . hypocrisies.”

Does our belief in Christ spill out into our lives? It is my belief that the separation of “sacred” and “secular” is a myth. I cannot compartmentalize my life. If I can be “Christian” on Sunday, at “church,” but can act like a heathen at work, or treat my family terribly at home, my “Christianity” is not real.

(From Symphony of Salvation, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 
Against you, you only, 
have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; 
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 
Surely I was sinful at birth, 
sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; 
you taught me wisdom in that secret place. 
(Psalms 51:1-6 NIV)

The prayer word for today is “life.” What a powerful word, full of meaning!

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
(James 4:14 NIV)

“Life” is fragile. As we have observed, so many times in our past, a loved one is “here today, gone tomorrow.” We are described, in Scripture, as a breath, a mist, as grass, that is here one minute and burned in the fire the next.

We don’t really notice this, as children. When we are children, life is forever, and the main goal is fun. As young adults, we think ourselves indestructible. But as we grow older, the frailty becomes reality. Death is imminent. We think about it more.

May God help us to treasure this thing called “life.” The good news is that it doesn’t end here. But the time here is, by comparison, short, just a breath, a wisp of smoke.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Father, what beautiful reminders, this morning, of the beauty of life with You! Yes, I am dust, and to dust shall I return, assuming Jesus does not return before my physical life on this planet ends. But “life” as we know, does not end at that point. We will carry on, in some form which we know not, for eternity, in our lives with You.

I pray for all who are embarking on a Lenten journey today. As we “celebrate” Ash Wednesday, whether we get cross-shaped smudges of ash on our foreheads or not, may we remember the truth that we are only dust. Help us all to accomplish whatever “fast” You have put on our hearts today. For me, I ask that You strengthen me, more for the elimination of judgment and criticism than candy, although I desire success in both realms. But, to me, the criticism is the more important aspect. Help me to “take captive” those thoughts as soon as they enter my brain, and not to entertain them, and especially not to let them escape through my mouth or fingertips.

So, Lord, I just realized that I’m focusing on what goes in my mouth and what comes out my mouth. That’s rather ironic.

I also pray that my faith always works itself out in reality, and is not something hidden, that no one else can see. It must be, in order to be authentic. It is not private, and I cannot separate “sacred” and “secular.” My life is in You. All of it, every aspect of it. Christ must be all and in all.

Glory to You, through the Son and by the Spirit!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Generosity Begets Generosity

Good morning. Today is Friday, the seventh of January, 2022, in the second week of Christmas.

May God’s peace flood your soul, today.

Day 23,311

Sixteen days until Hamilton, assuming it doesn’t get cancelled.

I remain concerned that it will, still, as the new cases of Covid continue to break previous records. The U.S. had 751,000 new cases, yesterday.

Regarding the Church calendar, I will mostly be following whatever Pray As You Go says, this year. I’ve already noticed that they begin counting “Ordinary Time” next week. The resource I used last year counted the entire time between yesterday and Ash Wednesday as the season of Epiphany, and didn’t begin counting Ordinary Time until after Easter. If you’re confused, join the club. I will say that Pray As You Go is a ministry of Jesuit Ministries in Great Britain.

I’ve already done better with my “aspirations” for the new year. I’ve definitely done more reading, and am already just over sixty pages away from finishing my second book of the year (A Slow Fire Burning, by Paula Hawkins), and we are still in the first week! Several nights, this week, after we have finished dinner and our TV watching, rather than crank up a video game, I have simply sat on the coach and read a while.

I feel like I’m doing a little better with the praying. That can always improve, but I’m finding myself stopping and whispering a quiet prayer any time I receive a prayer request on FB (or Tik Tok, but I haven’t gotten very many there, yet).

However, I have yet to make any music, this year. It will come, I am confident.

I had a great four hours, yesterday, at the library, but it is really messing up my “what day is this” bit on this week. I had to ask C if this was Friday. Of course, I always get to work on Fridays, in the computer center. This is also my week to work Saturday, which has not happened since before Christmas. In fact, I have not worked a Saturday since December 18th, and that was an “extra” shift for me.

I don’t really have much else, so on with the devotional.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord, I dedicate this day to You.
May my feet walk only where You want them to walk.
May my eyes see only what You want them to see.
May my ears hear only what You want them to hear.
May my mouth say only what You want it to say.
May my mind think only what You want it to think.

Father, I ask You to be present in this time. I know that You are here, but I am asking for something deeper, more of an awareness of that presence. As I read various portions of Your Word, this morning, I pray for wisdom and insight into what lies ahead for me today and in my life.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. 
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. 
I will strengthen you and help you. 
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. 
(Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. that God is with me, and there is no reason for me to be afraid of anything (unless I wander off the path)
2. that God is my refuge and my strength, my fortress and my hiding place
3. that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4)
4. that God doesn't need perfect people to do His good work (he manages to use me, after all)(for proof of this, read Judges)
5. that every good and perfect gift comes from God
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 
and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 
They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
(1 John 4:1-6 ESV)

“How do I know my words and actions are bringing me closer to God? What things make me turn away from God?”

These are good questions for reflection. These days, I’m seeing a lot of videos on social media about “deconstruction” of faith. It is a disturbing, yet understandable trend. A lot of it stems from, unfortunately, the political climate of the past four-plus years, and the rabid association of the “white evangelical church” with the “extreme right.” Some of the people who are deconstructing seem to have abandoned faith altogether, while some continue to seek Jesus, but outside the confines of the traditional “church.”

It is my opinion that one cannot leave the “Church” (capital C), while it is totally possible to leave the “church.” The reason I say that is because the Church is the Body of Christ. And if one is truly a member of the Church, one cannot leave it.

For these people, their words and actions may or may not be bringing them closer to God. For some, it is obvious that they are drifting further from God. So how, indeed, do I know? And note that the questions are not in regard to anyone else but me. This is a personal reflection. It is not for me to reflect on whether your words and actions are bringing you closer to God.

If my words and actions are bringing me closer to God, I believe that my words and actions will, in turn, reflect that. It is somewhat cyclical. If I am being drawn to love others (yes, here we go again), then I think that I am drawing closer to God. If my heart is full of compassion, I believe I am growing closer to God. If we keep reading in the fourth chapter of 1 John, I think we see this to be clear. If I am growing closer to God, then I am growing in love.

If my words and actions indicate bigotry and hatred, I am most definitely not growing closer to God. And, I am learning, I cannot afford to watch or listen to too many of these deconstruction videos, because they can cloud my thinking. I don’t have good answer for these people, nor do I intend to debate them. That is not my place; not my “ministry,” if you will. I am not a “Christian apologist.” My job is to love God and worship Him, and to love and pray for other people. I will say this, though. If you are a person who feels that “Christianity” has hurt you, one of two things is true, in my opinion. Either what you encountered is not “true” Christianity, or what you were looking for was not real Christianity, but some kind of personal validation. Real Christianity, true followers of Christ, is not in the business of hurting people.

Jesus, I ask You to help me recognize both the things that draw me closer to You and the things that tend to draw me away from You. Help me to be faithful to love and pray for others, and to love and worship You. Remind me to allow others, who are more gifted in that area, to debate with the deconstructionists. Also, please remind me of the truth of the words, “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.

In Symphony of Salvation, in the piece about the book of Judges, Eugene H. Peterson makes this statement: “God, it turns out, does not require good people in order to do good work.”

I’m going to let that sit there for a minute.

“God, it turns out, does not require good people in order to do good work.”

This may shock some people, but, if you read the book of Judges, it is hard to disagree. I have made mention of this fact, in previous entries, but possibly the most often-repeated phrase in the book is, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”

“It is always something of a shock to enter the pages of the book of Judges and find ourselves immersed in nearly unrelieved mayhem.”

I’m sorry (no I’m not), but did anyone else just see this?

The beauty of the story is that God works with us “in whatever moral and spiritual condition he finds us. God, we are learning, does some of his best work using the most unlikely people.”

Lift your hearts high, O Israel, with abandon, 
volunteering yourselves with the people—
bless GOD!
(Judges 5:9 MSG)
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, 
for his compassions never fail. 
They are new every morning; 
great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 
See, I am doing a new thing!
 Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
(Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
(2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

Today’s prayer word, in Pray a Word a Day, is “giving.”

Every good and perfect gift is from above, 
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, 
who does not change like shifting shadows. 
(James 1:17 NIV)

“Giving” can mean a lot of things. Or at least it can be seen in a lot of different ways. I don’t really want to talk about how much C and I give to others, because I never want to appear to be boastful about it. But know this. When you give to someone, out of the kindness of your heart, or, honestly, even if it is out of a sense of obligation (but remember, “God loves a cheerful giver”), that gift comes from God. It may have come out of my heart or my bank account or my pocket, but if it is a “good and perfect gift,” it originated from God.

And yes, I believe that gifts that we give to people can, indeed, be “good and perfect.” Because I believe that the opposite of the statement is also true. (“Opposite” is probably not the right word.) If every good and perfect gift comes from God, then it can also be said that every gift that comes from God is good and perfect. So if I give a gift, and it comes from the heart of God, and I am simply the channel, then that gift is “good and perfect.”

How does this apply to prayer? I can pray to be more giving. I can pray that God opens my eyes to needs today, as I interact with people, that I might give something to help that need. That could be time, money, attention, or anything else that I might have. It might just be a friendly smile or greeting, a notion of love.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs love.

Father, I am grateful that You are able to use people who are not necessarily “good,” nor are we perfect, to do Your good work. Thank You for the examples of people in the Bible, people who are jerks, people who are sinful, people who just aren’t very nice or good, sometimes, yet You used them in Your plan to bring salvation to the world. This means that You can use me, even me, and You have, and You continue to, so I am blessed and honored and humbled by this.

I thank You that You have placed a generous, giving heart within me, but I do not rest on that. I believe I can do better, and You can help me do so. All glory to You, through the Son and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
(Luke 6:38 MSG)

Grace and peace, friends.

Into the Deep

Today is Wednesday, the seventeenth of February, 2021.

Peace be with you!

Day 22,987

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lent Season. It is also St. Patrick’s Day. In the past, I would try to wear green. But then, it was pointed out to me that, since I am not Catholic, I should wear orange. I’m wearing grey this morning.

I am typing on my PC in my studio, this morning! Yes, our power returned at approximately 2:30 PM, yesterday afternoon. It was slightly comical, actually. Let’s begin, though, with the firewood story.

It was 53 degrees in the house. It had gotten down to 52, but that’s as cold as it got in our house. We attribute this to the fact that our house has always leaned toward the warm side, which makes it tough to cool in the summer. However, after the last 48 hours, I will not ever complain about that again, because I know some folks who had temps in the thirties in their homes.

We had two fake fireplace logs. Yes, we were pathetically unprepared for this. I promise we won’t be caught off-guard like that again. Some good people brought us some firewood. A family in our little church, who lives across the street from the house where we meet and have nights of worship, has a large amount of wood in their back yard. Brandon and Terry, the other two leaders in our church, along with Brent, who lives across the street, loaded up the back of Brandon’s truck and brought a huge amount of wood to us.

So we were able to have a nice fire going. We rearranged the furniture so that our long couch was facing the fire (about five feet away), and C’s recliner was right there at the end of the couch. So we were enjoying the heat of the fire. We had had our lunch. C and S had sandwiches, and I had a can of tuna. We also had cold, leftover Pecan-crusted chicken. I held my two pieces of the first on a fork for a few seconds. It didn’t warm it a whole lot, but gave it a nice, smoky flavor.

All of a sudden, something beeped. Tessie (dog) barked. I turned to look toward where the beep had come from, and said, “What was that?” expecting another smoke alarm failing, or something like that. It didn’t even dawn on me. Then I saw C’s face, and I realized what had happened, just as I heard the sound of the fan from the bedroom. The power was on!

There was a brief moment where we almost wept for joy, but even that joy was tainted by not knowing if it would stay on. We sprung into action. C ran into the kitchen and turned on the coffee maker. I grabbed electronic devices and got them plugged in to charge. I turned the heat thermostat down to 68, as recommended by the PTB’s. I figured we had endured 53, so 68 should be a walk in the park, you know. I went ahead an reset the clocks on the stove and the microwave.

You know what we did next? Instead of jumping on our computers or turning the TV on, we sat back down on the couch and recliner, in front of the fire and enjoyed it a little while longer.

It is now 8:00 AM on Wednesday. The power stayed on all night. I suppose, after I finish my blogging, this morning, I will bring the food in from the back porch. I know that there are still some folks who don’t have power, yet, so we will be praying hard for them, today, and seeing if there is anything we can do to help. There are horror stories on TV . . . icicles hanging from ceiling fans in homes, water raining down from the ceiling of the Fort Worth Hilton, churches completely flooded.

Most of Galveston and the Gulf Coast is without power, as well. It was 23 degrees in Galveston, yesterday, and the beach was white! The winter storm warning spanned the entire state of Texas! It’s going to take some time to recover from this. Yet another chapter in what has been the strangest twelve months of my life.

Obviously, I’m not at work, this morning. We have been told that we are expected to be there tomorrow, if at all possible. We received communication that, if we could not make it in on Thursday, we would be charged PTO. This makes me think that we will not be charged PTO for these three days. However, I’m also not sure we will be paid if we don’t use PTO. That is unclear at this point. So, tomorrow, I will get up and get ready, and see how the roads look. It is only supposed to reach 30 degrees today, according to one weather app, but another says only 27. I don’t think that’s going to be enough to clear things up. We got more snow, overnight, but not a lot in Fort Worth. Denton and northern areas got more.

I’ll move on to the more important part of my morning.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

“Enter, Lord Christ–
I have joy in Your coming.
You have given me life;
and I welcome Your coming.
I turn now to face You,
I lift up my eyes.
Be blessing my face, Lord;
be blessing my eyes.
May all my eye looks on
be blessed and be bright,
my neighbors, my loved ones
be blessed in Your sight.
You have given me life
and I welcome Your coming.
Be with me, Lord,
I have joy, I have joy.”
(Celtic Daily Prayer)

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the LORD answer all your prayers.
(Psalms 20:4-5 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

  • For electricity; for lights, for heat, for COFFEE
  • For wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ; we help take care of each other
  • For conveniences that we often take for granted
  • That we never had any water issues at our house
  • For the season of Lent
  • That through everything that has happened in the last twelve months, if we are truly paying attention, You are drawing us deeper

Scriptures and Prayers from Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year

“For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
(Genesis 3:19 NLT)

As we enter into the Lent season, it is important to realize the purpose. It doesn’t have to be joyless, but it is an intentional entering into the suffering of Jesus, through fasting or other forms of self-denial. This is something that is growing less and less popular in our culture.

“The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say no to ourselves in order to experience a greater yes in Jesus.”

LENT – DAY 1 – ASH WEDNESDAY

INVITATION

The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
(Psalms 145:8 NLT)

BIBLE SONG

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
(Psalms 51:1-6 NIV)

BIBLE READING

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.
(Joel 2:1-2 NIV)

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
(Joel 2:12-13 NIV)

DWELLING: SILENCE AND MEDITATION

Psalm 51 is always a great confessional psalm, and is certainly a good prayer for the Lent season. “Have mercy on me,” is always a cry worthy of the child of God. “Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

Of course, the thing is, post-Jesus, our sins are always cleansed. But the major point of this comes in the next verses. We must be aware of our sin. “I know my transgression,” says David. This is an important perspective as we enter Lent. We have to be aware of our transgressions. This, again, is not a popular sentiment in our culture.

If we observe the season, even in times outside of Lent, we can learn this wisdom from God, “in that secret place.”

The passage in Joel calls us to repentance, to “fasting and weeping and mourning.” It was a common practice to tear clothes in sorrow, but Joel calls us to “rend” our hearts, rather than our clothing. But I love the reasoning for returning to the Lord. “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

This is the perfect time to consider all of these things. I am looking forward to this Lent season. I seem to be in a better place to observe it, this year, as I feel like I have made significant spiritual progress in the last year.

I believe I have determined what I will “give up” for Lent. I won’t say, here, except to say that it is not a tangible thing; it’s an attitude, something mental/emotional.

Father, even though the season of Lent is not something specifically called for in Scripture, I am glad for the opportunity to embrace the suffering of our Savior and enter into an attitude of self-denial, even if it is for something small and seemingly insignificant. It may not be insignificant for me, though. Maybe it is a part of my life that needs to be permanently eliminated. Give me strength during this forty-day period, and remind me minute by minute of what I have purposed to do (or not do) in my spirit. I am thankful for the inspiration for the season. And I pray for everyone who has purposed in their heart to give something up for this period, whether it be tangible, such as a kind of food or drink or other activity, or something spiritual or mental. All glory to You, Lord!

"Holy God, 
corruption is everywhere.
For too long sin and disobedience has been our master,
ever since the fall of Adam and Eve.
And still today,
I look around and see this sin
that poisons our life.
We're all natural born sinners,
corrupt from conception on.
And I stand among another generation of
such born sinners.
Lord, have mercy.
Amen."
(Heidelberg Catechism 7)

BLESSING

Redeem us from all wickedness, purify us and make us your very own, eager to do what is good.
(see Titus 2:14)”

And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled.
(Ezra 8:21 NLT)

When Mordecai learned about all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on burlap and ashes, and went out into the city, crying with a loud and bitter wail. He went as far as the gate of the palace, for no one was allowed to enter the palace gate while wearing clothes of mourning. And as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes. When Queen Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was deeply distressed. She sent clothing to him to replace the burlap, but he refused it.
(Esther 4:1-4 NLT)

Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time:
“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”
This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds:
“Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”
The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
(Jonah 3:1-10 NLT)

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”
(Revelation 2:4-5 NLT)

We are now moving into the text of the actual letters to the seven churches, in Revelation. First up is Ephesus, and the book chapter is entitled, “The Test of Our Love.”

Peterson begins by pointing out the magnificent accomplishes of human beings. Unlike animals, we are not simply content to “fill our stomachs, find shelter, mate, and frolic a little in the sun on occasion.” We build large, impressive buildings, we create huge rockets, capable of traversing thousands and thousands of miles in space, we build super-computers (ironically getting smaller and smaller in size), we accomplish amazing physical feats of athleticism, we create inspirational and mind-boggling art and music, and we have accomplished amazing medical things. We have also learned how to grow food to feed a hungry world.

But, Peterson, opines, the best thing we do as humans is love. “When we are living at our best, with all our energies focused, all our abilities alert and involved, doing what we were created to do, we love.” On the other hand, no matter what else we accomplish, if we do not love, “it is not satisfactory.” Paul addressed this fact in the famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians.

The question remains, though . . . “Why don’t we love more? Why aren’t we better at it? Why do we settle for so much less? Why do we get diverted and distracted from a life of love?”

We will attempt to answer those questions as we continue in the book.

(From This Hallelujah Banquet, by Eugene H. Peterson)

May the God of your father help you; may the Almighty bless you with the blessings of the heavens above, and blessings of the watery depths below, and blessings of the breasts and womb.
(Genesis 49:25 NLT)

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”
And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said,
“Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.”
For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon,
“Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”
And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
(Luke 5:4-11 NLT)

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.
(1 Corinthians 2:10-13 NLT)

Jesus told Simon to cast his nets “out where it is deeper.” The fish were not located in the shallow water. When Simon did what Jesus said, they got so many fish that their nets began to tear.

“The blessings of God aren’t found in the shallow waters.”

This is something we all need to hear. Many Christians don’t ever get out of the shallow waters. I have spent way too much time there, in my own life. Recently, though, I have begun to get deeper. And it has a positive effect on my life. It also makes some things that used to be important not so important, any more.

We like to stay by the “shore,” where things are more comfortable. Sure, we read the Bible, but we only see the surface, “the shallow of the Word.” We pray, but our prayers stay shallow, typically dealing only with physical problems. We even tend to stay in the shallow parts of God’s love, which, as the poet expressed so well is so deep that, if we were to write it all down with ink that filled the oceans, it would drain the oceans dry.

“But if you want the blessings of God, you must leave the shallow and launch out away from the shore, away from its distractions, away from the old and the familiar, and into the deep . . . into the deep waters of faith, the deep waters of His presence, the deep of His Word, the deep of worship, the deep of His joy, the deep of His Spirit, and the deep of His heart. That’s where your blessings are waiting to be found.”

And, “miracles so big that your net will break.”

We have spent time, in the past year, wondering why we don’t see some of the miracles that the Apostles did in the book of Acts. Of course, we know that the Apostles, themselves, did no miracles. They were simply channels. Nevertheless, why do we not see such things today. Perhaps because we have not launched into the deep.

The Mission: Launch out into the deep waters of God today. And there let down your net that it might break with His blessings.”

(From The Book of Mysteries, by Jonathan Cahn)

Father, I read this, and I think, “I want to go deeper, but I don’t know how to swim” (from a song by Delirious). Is it fear that keeps us from going deeper? It’s like venturing out into the waves of the ocean. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, but we don’t know where the ledge is, where we take a step and plummet into the depths, over our heads. Well, I think I’m ready to plummet, Father. This week has, hopefully, taught me some things. Last night, as we celebrated having power for the first time in almost 35 hours, we realized that we had made it through, and made it through well. We didn’t break down. We didn’t fight; we didn’t yell at each other; we didn’t EVER despair. We were certainly tempted to. But the whole time, we were focused, thinking, “We will get through this. We are okay.” We kind of just hummed along. It was uncomfortable, but there are others who are more uncomfortable. There are still people without power, and there are some who, just this morning, have lost power for the first time.

Draw us deeper, O Lord, deeper into Your well of the Spirit. Show us how to find the “blessings” that will break our nets. However, may we be seeking You and Your Face and Your Name, more than we seek blessing. I am certainly interested in blessings. But I am more interested in becoming who/what You desire for me to become. I believe You are more interested in what I become than in what I do. During this season of Lent, show me what I need to find in You. Draw me deeper.

Lord, I lift up communities, both local and national, and especially in the areas that are effected by this huge winter storm outbreak. Please restore power where it needs to be restored! We need Your supernatural help, because our governments are inept. I lift up the continent of Africa, today, praying for all general needs that occur in their countries. And I pray for those who work to lobby for justice and peace in our land and in our world.

I pray for peace in our nation, peace in our world. I pray for racial injustice to end, and I pray for the pandemic to be over. Above all else, though, I pray for Your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Pushing Forward

Today is Sunday, the fourteenth of February, 2021.

Peace be with you!

Day 22,984

Three days until Ash Wednesday

It’s Valentine’s Day, today. C and I haven’t celebrated this “holiday” in many years. I don’t remember when we decided not to any more, but we did. We don’t get each other gifts or candy (which we certainly don’t want, at this point in our journey).

That being said, I don’t look down on anyone who does celebrate the day. I hope they have a great day and celebrate their love in unique ways.

We woke up, not unexpectedly, to snow, this morning. There’s not a lot, yet, but the street is already covered. The temperature is 18 degrees. The projected high is 19. Tonight’s low is 5. I have a Facebook friend who lives in Canada. She’s shocked that it is going to be as cold in Texas as it is in her part of Canada.

I’m definitely looking at the possibility of not going to work the whole week, as it is not projected to get above freezing until Friday, sometime.

In other news, I lost a pound at WW, yesterday morning, which puts me just under where I was week before last. I have now lost 102 pounds, and that was done in pretty much exactly a year. I believe yesterday was our one year anniversary of workshops. We “joined” WW on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, and went to our first workshop on February 8. Okay, so that would make yesterday a year and a week. Whatever.

S had a great idea yesterday. With the impending Snowmaggedon approaching, she suggested we get Applebee’s for lunch yesterday, rather than waiting for today. In retrospect, that turns out to have been a very good idea. We did that. So, today, after our Zoom-church, we plan to cook our usual Saturday brunch, which is eggs and stuff. Then, this evening, we plan to have our Pecan-crusted Buttermilk Chicken.

We have our Zoom-church at 10:15, today, which is not that far off. So this may not be completed until after noon today. It’s my day to lead, so I probably shouldn’t be blogging during church. Heh. We are currently reading through Psalms, and will begin with chapter 4 today, probably getting through at least 6.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

He Himself is my contemplation;
He is my delight.
Him for His own sake
I seek above me;
from Him Himself I feed within me.
He is the field in which I labour.
He is the fruit for which I labour.
He is my cause;
He is my effect.
He is my beginning;
He is my end without end.
He is, for me, eternity.
(Isaac of Stella)

When the LORD brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the LORD has done for them.”
(Psalms 126:1-2 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

  • That, so far, we are safe and warm
  • For my nice, hot coffee
  • For the beauty I see outside; it’s troublesome, yes; anxiety-causing, yes; nevertheless, it is still beautiful
  • For the Gospel account that tells me that people were “pushing forward,” aggressively, to touch Jesus; Lord, help me to be more aggressive in trying to reach Him!
  • That after pain and sorrow, doubt and guilt, comes true and honest praise

Scriptures and Prayers from Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year

EPIPHANY – DAY 40

INVITATION

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.
(Psalms 68:19-20 NIV)

BIBLE SONG

For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.
(Psalms 42:1-6a NIV)

BIBLE READING

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.
(Mark 3:7-12 NIV)

DWELLING: SILENCE AND MEDITATION

As I sit here, in the presence of God, this morning, there is one phrase in this Bible reading that really stands out to me, perhaps more than ever. It is in verse 10, where it says that people with diseases “were pushing forward to touch him.”

I think about the psalm, above, in relation to this. Is my soul really thirsting for God? I think it is, I say it is, and I frequently identify with Psalm 42.

But Mark 3:10 convicts me, this morning. Am I “pushing forward” to touch Jesus? Obviously, I am not in His physical presence.

But here we have crowds of people, and this happens frequently throughout the Gospels, who have heard what Jesus is capable of doing. So the sick people are aggressively trying to get to Him!

Some, no doubt are just there for the show, or out of curiosity. Which is fine, really. What matters most is the desire to see Jesus. The motivation isn’t as important as the desire.

But back to this “pushing forward” bit. This really speaks to me, this morning, and causes me to stop and think, to meditate on my own condition. I am sick, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, just all humanity is. Yes, I am “redeemed,” in spirit. I am forgiven, I am “saved.” But I am not perfect. I am not completely healed in any of those realms, nor will I be until I see my Savior face to face.

Therefore, if I believe the stories, if I believe what I have heard, I should be “pushing forward,” aggressively, to touch Him!

Many times, I find that my forward movement is much more casual. And this troubles me, this morning.

However, look at the end of the passage from Psalms.

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. 

Father, I thank You for this Word from the Gospel of Mark! Thank You for the conviction that I am not exactly “pushing forward.” Oh, sure, I might be moving, and in a relatively forward direction. But am I “pushing?” I need to be more aggressive in my pursuit of holiness, in my pursuit of spiritual formation and transformation. May Your Holy Spirit guide me, Father, and spur me on, as I ponder this Gospel account!

"Jesus,
Word of God:
your teaching is fresh with wisdom
and piercing with clarity.
If I've ever wondered about the mind of God,
if I've ever struggled to know God's heart,
I need look no further than you.
Help me listen to you as
you perfectly reveal the hidden wisdom
and will of God for my deliverance.
Amen."
(Heidelberg Catechism 31)

BLESSING

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
(Jeremiah 31:3 NIV)

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.
(1 John 5:3 NLT)

Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me.
(Exodus 19:5 NLT)

You are my friends if you do what I command.
(John 15:14 NLT)

Here’s a little refresher as to what His commands are:

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
(Mark 12:29-31 NLT)

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.
(John 13:34 NLT)

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
(Revelation 21:5-7 NLT)

As Peterson continues to discuss praise and thanksgiving, he notes that there are no shortcuts to true praise and thankfulness. “We cannot praise prematurely,” he says, which ties back to the end of yesterday’s part, about being genuine, or authentic, as people like to say, these days. We get this in the Psalms, which we happen to be reading through, right now. Just today, we read a couple where David lamented, wailed, moaned, complained, and then proceeded to end in praise and hopefulness.

If you have read the book of Revelation, you know that there is a lot of scary, terrible stuff that happens before the praise and worship starts. Then there is some more hard stuff, and then there is some more praise and worship. Peterson, in fact, says that this cycle happens seven times, ending, of course, with the climax, “this hallelujah banquet.”

We need to take this pattern seriously. “Premature praise if false praise. Praise is our end but not our beginning.” Life is begun crying. “We kick and flail. We yell and weep.”

Here is the pattern: “We don’t become praising people by avoiding or skipping or denying the pain and poverty and the doubt and the guilt but by entering into them, exploring them, minding their significance, embracing the reality of these experiences.

“This is what is so distressing about the religious entertainment industry in our land. We have the popularization of a kind of religion that, instead of training people to the sacrificial life after the pattern of our Lord, seduces them into having fun on the weekends, with Jesus as the chief master of ceremonies.”

Remember . . . this message was written in 1967!!

Father, may I find ways in my life, as the psalmists did, to authenticate my laments, my groanings, and my complainings to You, that my praise might be true and honest. Help me, along with all of us in Your Church, to deal properly with the pain and sorrow, the doubt and guilt, the poverty, the sin, properly, not denying or ignoring them, but acknowledging their existence. Life is hard, as M. Scott Peck once said. But once we acknowledge this truth, it is not so hard any more. Give us hope, Father, through these desperate times. There is so much pain; so much tragedy; much hopelessness. Yet we, Your people, find hope within it all. Our hope is in You, for there is no other Name by which we may be saved!

Lord, for myself, as well as all Your children, I pray for a deeper understanding of all of the Gospel message. Help us to know the “full experience of our adoption as” Your children. Help me, at all times, to have a gentle witness, and be ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that I have.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.

My Times Are In Your Hands

Today is Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Peace be with you!

Day 22,630

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Are you observing Lent, this year? I like the way one of my Facebook friends put it. She said something like, “Forty days developing a good habit.” I have decided what my Lenten observation is. However, I choose not to share it publicly, as I believe it is a private thing. But if I succeed, people will surely notice. 🙂

46 days until Easter, better known as “Resurrection Sunday.”

We had a crock pot dish failure, last night. Doesn’t happen very often, but we just didn’t like the recipe. That’s disappointing, of course, for several reasons. First, it was supposed to be our dinner. We had to whip up a quick “plan B,” which wound up being something different for all of us. Second, it’s wasteful. But we had no way of knowing ahead of time that we weren’t going to like it. We’re trying a new one tonight, but we should like it fine. This one is a chicken recipe, with low fat Cream of Chicken soup, Creamy Italian dressing mix, and low fat cream cheese. It should be very similar to our other chicken soup crock pot recipe. It might not be wise to try new recipes on consecutive nights, but it is, as they say, what it is.

But what if it isn’t?

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS
All Scriptures are from the ESV unless otherwise noted

Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
(Psalms 31:23)

Today I am grateful:
1. For the season of Lent, forty days to prepare ourselves for Holy Week
2. That the Lord has given me a task for Lent
3. That God, my refuge, will protect my soul and deliver me from any troubles (Psalm 25.20)
4. That my times are in His hands (Psalm 31)
5. For the joy that God has placed in my soul

Of David. To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
(Psalms 28:1)

Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?
(Psalms 77:13)

Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
(Psalms 25:20)

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
(Mark 9:30-32)

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave. Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
(Psalms 57:1-3)

Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.
(Psalms 55:17)

“Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who cares for us: Preserve me from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from me the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
(The Divine Hours, The Prayer Appointed for the Week)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(Philippians 4:4-9)

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:1)

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalms 2:1-12)

To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David. I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!
(Psalms 9:1, 11)

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(Matthew 6:5-8)

(From The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy and Kathy Keller)

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends— those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. Let me not be put to shame, LORD, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and be silent in the realm of the dead. Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
(Psalms 31:9-18)

David experienced, quite literally, “terror on every side” (verse 13). In times like these, life seems “precarious and even capricious.” Things happen to us that don’t make a lick of sense to us. Why are these things happening, we wonder.

But in the midst of these terrors, David declares his trust in the Lord. “My times are in your hands,” he proclaims in verse 15. “The Bible’s teaching on this is balanced. Many events are evil and grievous, yet God overrules them and works them all together, in the long run, for good (Romans 8:28).” Our lives cannot be permanently derailed. “Learn how to say to God: ‘My times are in your hands.'”

Prayer: “Lord, so many of the circumstances of my life make no sense to me, but they make sense to you. Help me, like David, to rest in that. My times are truly in your hands, and that is absolutely, infinitely better than if they were in my hands. Amen.”

Father, today, and every day, I proclaim, “My times are in Your hands.”
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3.17

Grace and peace, friends!

Nothing to Fear

“If our hearts delight in God and his face, then we can contemplate losing earthly joys without fear.”

Today is Wednesday, February 19, 2020. Peace be with you!

Day 22,623

Seven days until the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday).

I was getting worried . . . I was having trouble seeing the computer screen, like my eyes weren’t working right, this morning. I finally figured out that I had the wrong glasses on. I hope that’s not an indicator of how the day is going to be.

We’re getting our shower worked on. Some of the tiles fell off the wall, and we’re having it repaired. Unfortunately, the backing was pretty much rotted out, so he had to replace that, going up pretty much half of the wall. The tiles are on, and he’s coming back to today to grout it. That, of course, means we can’t use our shower today. He recommends that we wait until Friday morning, anyway, to make sure everything is sufficiently dried. So we’re using the shower in S’s bathroom. We don’t call it a “guest bathroom.” It’s always been the girls’ bathroom. R’s room will always be R’s room. It will never be the “guest bedroom.”

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS
All Scriptures are from the ESV unless otherwise noted

Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!
(Psalms 57:8)

Today I am grateful:
1. That obstacles make us stronger
2. That diversity in our groups also gives us strength and makes us better
3. For the power of God in our lives
4. That He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world
5. That things are better than I can ever imagine as I live in the kingdom of God (Dallas Willard)

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
(Psalms 80:7)

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.
(Psalms 71:23)

Summon your power, O God, the power, O God, by which you have worked for us.
(Psalms 68:28)

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
(John 8:34-36)

Rescue me and deliver me from the hand of foreigners, whose mouths speak lies and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood. May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!
(Psalms 144:11-15)

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for Yours are the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

“O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
(The Divine Hours, The Prayer Appointed for the Week)

Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice.
And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

(2 Kings 6:8-17)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
(2 Timothy 4:7)

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
(Galatians 6:9)

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:14)

(From The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy and Kathy Keller)

Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
(Psalms 27:7-14)

In the midst of his struggles, the beauty of God enables David to live in “confident peace.” “If our hearts delight in God and his face, then we can contemplate losing earthly joys without fear.” He proclaims in verse 10, that, even if father and mother forsake him, the Lord would not. “If our greatest treasure–communion with the living God–is safe, of what can we be afraid?”

Look back at verse 1! “The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” Look at Romans 8:31! “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Why, then, are we afraid of so many things? I’ll re-state one of my favorite Dallas Willard quotes again. “The world is a perfectly safe place for us to be.” He also said, “Things are really better than you can ever imagine as you live in the kingdom of God.” I am guilty of being afraid of things, though. And when I am afraid, it shows me where my heart’s treasure really lies. “Follow the pathway of the fear back into your heart to discover the things you love more than God.”

Prayer: “Lord, I will obey you simply because you are worthy of it and it is my duty. But don’t let my service to you remain at at that level. Show me your beauty–attract my heart, capture my imagination, so that I find joyful pleasure in serving you. Amen.”

Yes, Lord. Help me to love you more than things of the world. Teach me where my treasure truly is, and keep me from these fears that betray where my heart truly holds its treasure. I want to seek your face, Lord. Help me to seek your face.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

“As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.” Job 5.8-9

Grace and peace, friends.

The Sovereignty of God

Good morning. It is Tuesday (post-Monday), February 17, 2015. Only three more days until pitchers and catchers report! 48 more days until Opening Day! Also, today is what is known as “Fat Tuesday.” Which makes tomorrow “Ash Wednesday.” Easter will be on April 5, this year.

Today’s word of the day is week. I know what you’re thinking. Well, maybe I don’t. But this “week” has nothing to do with seven days. It is defined as, “Representing a short high-pitched sound, esp. as made by a pig. Freq. reduplicated.” If you think about it, it works, doesn’t it? “Week! Week! Week!,” said the pig.

Today is Random Acts of Kindness Day. I think you know what to do.

So what did I do on my day off? I went to have lunch with Christi (and our insurance agent/financial advisor), I bought Kristy Kreme doughnuts on the way home, as well as drinks from Sonic, I practiced the trombone, I played baseball on the Xbox, watched a silly movie, and then cooked dinner. It was a nice day. Christi and I watched the premier of The Slap, last night. I think it came on last Thursday. We won’t be continuing this series. It’s too uncomfortable in several ways. And it looks like it will continue to be more so. After that, we watched The Mentalist. Sadly, there is only one more episode of that show left. Next Wednesday will be the series finale.

Today, it’s back to work, and then I have Huddle tonight. Today is also, as mentioned above, “Fat Tuesday.” The culmination of Mardi Gras. Traditionally, the idea is to indulge in as much sinful activity as possible on this day, because “Ash Wednesday” is tomorrow, which signifies the beginning of Lent, the period of fasting that is to occur before Easter. Mardi Gras (along with Carnival in other countries) has just become the world’s biggest party, and my guess is that a large percentage of the people who participate have no clue what the meaning is. They’re just along for the party. Personally, I believe the whole idea is ludicrous, and shows a deep misunderstanding of what the Gospel is all about. And since I’m not Catholic, I don’t really observe any of it, anyway. I don’t “give up” anything for Lent, either. The whole idea of gorging yourself on Tuesday and then giving something up for the next forty days, well, it kind of baffles me. It’s like pigging out the day before you know you’re going to fast. It defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

. . . when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
Psalm 17:15b

(FromSolid Joys)

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,
Galatians 1:15

Today’s reading is “The Sweet Designs of God.”

“Ponder the conversion of Paul, the sovereignty of Christ, and what Paul’s sins have to do with your salvation.”

Note that Paul says that God set him apart before he was born (see the verse from Galatians, quoted above). Then, when Saul was on the Damascus road, God called him, “by his grace.” So, between Paul’s birth and his Damascus road experience, he was an “already-chosen but not-yet-called instrument of God.” This also means, and pay attention to this, that “Paul was beating and imprisoning and murdering Christians as a God-chosen, soon-to-be-made-Christian missionary.” We need to think about that for a little bit.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'”
Acts 22:6-7

This was the moment. Paul was chosen before he was born, and now, God was taking him. “The word of Christ was sovereign. There was no negotiating.”

And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’
Acts 22:10

This is important. “Damascus was not Paul’s final, free will yielding to Christ after decades of futile divine effort to save him. God had a time for choosing him (before he was born) and a time for calling him (on the Damascus road). Paul yielded when God called.”

And here is something that is even more astounding. In fact, I know some people who would run away screaming at this point. “Therefore, the sins that God permitted between Paul’s birth and his calling were part of the plan, since God could have done Damascus sooner.” What?? Could sin actually be a part of God’s plan??? God is sovereign. If God is sovereign, there are no accidents.

What do the sins of Paul mean for you and me? Consider them. Paul, as Saul, murdered dozens of Christians. He was on hand, giving his approval when the religious leaders stoned Stephen to death. He persecuted Jesus Christ by killing his followers. These sins “were permitted for you and me — for all who fear that they might have sinned themselves out of grace.” Here is what Paul says about them:

Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy . . . for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:13, 16

“O how sweet are the designs of God in the sovereign salvation of hardened sinners!”

O, Father, I praise you for your sovereignty! I believe that you also chose me before I was born, and, at the appointed time, you called me. My life is very different from Paul’s, and many sins have threatened my relationship with you since the time you called me. However, since you are sovereign, and no man can snatch me out of the hands of my Savior, here I still am, trying my hardest to love you, follow Christ, and share the kingdom. I am so grateful for your sovereign grace! I thank you that you have placed me where I am, right now, unexpectedly leading an intercessory prayer ministry. I pray for your Spirit to help me understand, to teach me more and more about prayer and what it accomplishes. And I thank you for the example of Paul, not that I can feel better about my sin (I never murdered anyone, you know), but so that I can see the marvelous expanse of your wonderful grace!

I pray for this day. May our trip to work and home be safe. I pray for Christi’s work day, that it will be productive, and without stress or anxiety. I pray for my work day, that I will not be too far behind after being off yesterday. I pray for Stephanie, that you would show your great love to her, and that you would give her understanding. I pray for you to show her future to her (and to us, as well).

Your grace is amazing, Father!

God is sovereign. His grace is amazing. You cannot sin your way out of God’s grace. If he has chosen you, he will (if he has not already) call you. We may not all be “Paul,” but God has a plan for us, and he will work that plan!

Grace and peace, friends.