Looking for the Good Stuff

Good morning. Today is Saturday, the ninth of April, 2022, in the fifth week of Lent.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,403

Yesterday was a pretty good day, over all. There was a period of tenseness, at one point, because I made a bad decision about when to go pick up Freebirds for dinner. I foolishly decided to go between 4:30 and 5:00. Not only was the restaurant behind, but traffic was horrible, as I tried to get home. Lesson learned.

Otherwise, the day was great. Well, hold on. The Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox both lost their opening day games. The Sox went extra innings to lose to the Yankees, and the Rangers’ bullpen blew a 7-0 lead against the Blue Jays. It’s just one game, though. One out of 162.

The cake was very delicious. Did I mention that C made a strawberry cake?

The cats want to eat the flowers

Those are the flowers that I went out and bought before I even started my morning routine, yesterday. And that’s Rocky on the left and Luna on the right.

Fortunately, in spite of the difficulty in obtaining it, the food from Freebirds was delicious. And we enjoyed watching the Rangers game together.

Today, we plan to go out for lunch in a little while, and then head over to a gift shop in Keller, where a relative of mine is autographing copies of her newest children’s book. She’s the sister of my aunt-by-marriage, so I’m not sure what you call that. I suppose she’s sort of my aunt, as well, but only by marriage . . . there is no blood relation. So far, the Internet has been no help in answering that question.

Tomorrow, we will be heading back to Minerals Wells, to FBC, for their Easter music presentation, as it is Palm Sunday. We plan to pick up something and have lunch at the home place, and Mama will probably pick out a few more things to bring back to Fort Worth. At some point, there’s set of chairs and a table on the back deck, that we want to bring over and put on our back porch. But I don’t think we will be able to fit that tomorrow.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

The Answer Is Yes,” by Daryl Madden

The question from our God
Of our life to bless
Will you accept my love?
Let our answer be yes!

The precious gift of grace
A humble soul, confess
Will you receive my mercy?
Let our answer be yes!

With your gifts bestowed
Our purpose to profess
Will you live my calling?
Let our answer be yes!

Of our life’s unknowns
In times of fear and stress
Will you trust in Me?
Let our answer be yes!

For life is a practice
So, we don’t have to guess
With Me to dwell, forever?
With joy, we answer, yes!
"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" 
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:6-8 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for another day to celebrate with my family
2. for the ability to sing praises to God
3. for the therapeutic value of humming a happy tune
4. to be a sheep of Jesus Christ
5. that the "good stuff" is found far beyond "the crowd"

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you.”
(Deuteronomy 11:13-17 ESV)

Today’s prayer word is interesting. It is “hum.” You know, as in when you don’t know the words, you just hum?

“There’s no better way to calm your mind and boost your spirits than by humming a happy tune.” ~ Psychology Today

The Bible, especially the Psalms, is full of exhortation to sing praises to God. But what if you can’t sing? I know people who couldn’t carry a tune in an iron-clad safe! What are they supposed to do? Well, I know . . . the Bible also says, “Make a joyful noise.”

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
(Psalms 98:4 ESV)

I once knew a man who would whistle during the hymns at church.

Jennie, today’s writer, brings up the idea of kazoos. If there is anyone out there who does not know what that is (and I’m not talking about the little green guy that troubled Fred Flintstone), it’s a musical instrument through which sound is created by humming! There is a mouthpiece, followed by a piece of thin paper of some kind, a membrane that vibrates when you hum through it, making a buzzing noise.

Of course, if you can’t really sing in tune, I don’t know that you could hum in tune, either.

In all seriousness, though, our writer for today has a good point. Even if one has a decent singing voice (I’ve been told that I do), humming can be therapeutic, and even cathartic.

It can also annoy people, though, so discretion is advised.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.
(Deuteronomy 28:2 ESV)

Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
(Deuteronomy 28:6 ESV)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
(Psalms 32:8 ESV)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
(John 10:27 ESV)

These are some good verses. Especially the bit in John 10, which is one of my favorite chapters.

Daily Guideposts 2022 writer, Tia McCollors, uses her son’s Easter egg hunt experience to illustrate a great concept, that of not going along with, or going beyond, “the crowd.” I would like to think that I fall into that category.

You see, I’ve always been a bit of a loner. I am an only child. No brothers and sisters to play with. One would think that this would cause me to grow up not knowing how to share. I don’t think that is true. I like to think I’m pretty generous, these days.

And, while I did have friends, it never bothered me to play alone. And it still doesn’t. In fact, I struggle, sometimes, with playing with others. The phrase “does not play well with others” comes to mind.

I even wrote a song, once upon a time, in honor of my mother (it was called “Mama Won’t You Hold Me Just A Little Longer”) that talked about being left out a lot. The bridge went something like this:

I'm still the one who gets left out 
because I don't like to play their games.
But now I run to a different One
Because my Mama taught me well
To the One who knows all my pain
To Him my sorrows I can tell

There are actually a couple of lines up there that I can’t remember, and the song lyrics, sadly, have been lost, I’m afraid. There may be a recording of it somewhere, but it’s likely on a cassette. Also, the last chorus shifts from “Mama, won’t you hold me” to “Jesus, won’t You hold me.” I thought it was clever.

The point is, though, that I don’t tend to “follow the crowd.” Yet, I would gladly consider myself a “sheep” for Jesus’s sake. I am one of His sheep. I like to think I know His voice, and follow Him. And it is exactly those truths that make me tend to not follow even the “religious” crowd.

Like Tia McCollors’s son in the Easter egg hunt, I realize that all the “good stuff” is beyond where the crowd tends to be.

Continuing to speak of Jesus, Eugene Peterson reminds us that His parables often make us look beyond what we call our “real world.” We tend to reduce His words to make them fit into our own preconceived ideas about what life should be like.

But, says Peterson, “Jesus’s words bring us the news of an expanded world, a bright world, a full-dimensional world – a world in which God rules, mercy is a common experience, and love is the daily working agenda, not an occasional romantic interlude. Jesus’s words orient us to the world that is changed from the inside out by his arrival and rule.”

That is the world I want to be part of. I don’t want to be part of a world where people who claim to be following Jesus spew hatred and meanness to anyone who looks different from them or thinks different from them. And that’s why I look beyond the crowd for the “good stuff.”

That is not “Christianity.” That is a cult.

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, first, I thank You for the ability to sing Your praises. You have blessed me with that ability, and I strive to use it for Your praise and glory. I am also grateful for the concept of humming. Sometimes it makes one feel better just to hum a happy tune.

I am also grateful to be considered one of Your sheep. Some people use the term derogatorily, but it doesn’t offend me. I’m glad to know Your voice, at least I hope I do, and follow Jesus as He leads.

Help me to always be looking for the “good stuff,” far beyond the crowd. Help me to never try to water down Your words by trying to make them fit into our concept of what reality is. I know that reality is what I bump into when I am wrong about something, or when I make a bad decision. Reality doesn’t always fit where I want it to be. But You are the true Reality and Jesus is the Truth and the Life, and my Way to reach You.

All glory to You, through the Son and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

The Love that Comforts and Provides

Today is Friday, the eighth of April, 2022, in the fifth week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ reign within you, today!

Day 23,402

Today is a very special day. It is my mother’s birthday.

Happy birthday, Mama!! I love you!

I’ve already been out and got flowers and donuts to help the celebration, and we plan to have Freebirds today, at some point, probably for dinner tonight. C also made a strawberry cake for the occasion. Yum!!

My first Thursday at the library was a good day. It was a lot busier in the Computer Center than a typical Friday, which helped the day go by faster. I had a couple of patrons that needed extensive help, and I was able, for the most part to get them what they wanted.

I literally have nothing else on my agenda for today, other than going out to pick up the Freebirds (and Sonic drinks of course) later. Oh, and watching the Texas Rangers opening game, later, this evening, as they open the season in Toronto.

In baseball news, the Cubs, Royals, Cardinals, Mets, Reds, Astros, and D-backs, won their opening day games. The Red Sox/Yankees and Mariners/Twins games were both postponed and will hopefully happen today. Everyone else is scheduled to play today.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"O Lord,
you have mercy on all.
Take away my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of your Holy Spirit.
Take away my heart of stone
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore you,
a heart to delight in you,
to follow and to enjoy you, for Christ’s sake.
Amen."
(Prayer for A Renewed Heart, St. Ambrose)
Oh give thanks to the LORD; 
call upon his name; 
make known his deeds among the peoples! 
Sing to him, sing praises to him; 
tell of all his wondrous works! 
Glory in his holy name; 
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! 
Seek the LORD and his strength; 
seek his presence continually! 
(Psalms 105:1-4 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the lifelong instruction and wisdom of godly parents
2. the comfort that God gives us in our sufferings and afflictions; comfort with which we can, in turn, comfort others
3. the love of God that results in His provision for our lives
4. the things I can learn from studying my past experiences
5. that God gave me a brain and the ability to use it

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20 NLT)

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.”
(Deuteronomy 10:12-22 ESV)

Today’s prayer word is “comfort.” Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days.”

We all have difficult days. Some of us have more difficult days than others, seemingly more than our fair share of them. There are some good words in 2 Corinthians about comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV)

The word appears a few more times in 2 Corinthians, as well. God comforts us, why? Not so that we can just feel better and not be sorry for ourselves. It is so that we can, in turn, comfort others.

The Bible is very clear, throughout, that this life is not all about me, and is not for me to benefit. Yes, I do receive benefits from the Christian life. But it doesn’t stop there. I’m not like the Dead Sea, that is all receiving and no giving. Anything I receive, I should be, in some way, giving away. The phrase “pay it forward” comes to mind. We cannot pay God back. That is simply impossible. But we can “pay it forward.” We can take the comfort which God gives us in our sorrow and in our difficulties and comfort someone else who has experienced loss or is having a bad day.

“God often redeems our sufferings by equipping us and giving us opportunities to extend comfort to others. Sometimes we do that in person by sitting or crying with a struggling or heartbroken friend, but always we can pray for God’s comfort to visit them.”

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 
And he cautioned them, saying, "Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." 
And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" 
They said to him, "Twelve." 
"And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" 
And they said to him, "Seven." 
And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?" 
(Mark 8:14-21 ESV)

When we re-read these miracles of Jesus, what is our intent? Is it just to refresh our memories? That doesn’t seem to be the case here, with Jesus and His disciples. He wants them to dwell on the two particular miracles of which He speaks. “For they had already forgotten or had failed to see their central revelation – the eternal fact of God’s love and care and compassion. They knew the number of the men each time, the number of the loaves each time, the number of the baskets of fragments they had each time taken up, but they forgot the Love that had so broken the bread that its remnants twenty times outweighed its loaves.”

Jesus warned them against the teachings of the religious leaders, teachings which would have us believe that God withholds blessings based on legalities; teachings that resemble those of today’s “religious leaders.” Finally, the disciples did understand. “He who trusts can understand; he whose mind is set at east can discover a reason.” The lesson here was that God cares for His children, and will provide for their necessities. And it is love that is the driving force of this provision.

You see, the disciples were failing to trust. Look at verse 16. They discussed among themselves the fact that they had not brought any bread. After all that they had seen Jesus do. “The miracles of Jesus were the ordinary works of His Father, wrought small and swift that we might take them in. The lesson of them was that help is always within God’s reach when His children want it.”

All too often, we, as humans, remember the loaves but forget the Father, even as, in our theology, we “forget the very Logos.”

The care the Father has for us is care for the day (see Matthew 6). “The next hour, the next moment, is as much beyond our grasp and as much in God’s care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is just as foolish as care for the morrow, or for a day in the next thousand years – in neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything.”

“The moment which coincides with work to be done, is the moment to be minded; the next is nowhere till God has made it.”

(All above quotes from Creation in Christ, by George MacDonald, referenced in Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

The Spiritual Discipline being highlighted, here, is that of study. That may sound odd, as we normally consider study to be a discipline that involves books and reading. However, Jesus has called His disciples, here, to study, dwell upon, and learn from their experience. We should do the same. It is worthwhile to look back upon our experiences and learn from them. We can learn much, both from experiences when we felt God moving in our lives, and experiences when we felt far from Him.

Here is another nugget from Eugene Peterson: “The Christian faith does not turn us into robots who are conditioned to behave in moral ways by reflex. The Christian faith does not lobotomize us so that we don’t have to think through anything. Jesus said, ‘Learn from me’ (Matthew 11:29). He intends to shape our minds, inform our intelligence, and mature our judgment so that we can understand and participate in the meaning of new life.”

The disciples were so fortunate to have that in-person experience with Him. We, on the other hand, must learn these things from a distance.

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, I thank You that You have given us brains and the ability to think things through, and that You do not expect us to be pre-programed robots, conditioned to behave in certain ways. While I am expected to surrender my “rights” and walk according to the words and steps of Jesus, I still have the ability to make decisions and think about things. Those decisions are not always the right ones or, perhaps, not the best ones. But I am still me because You did not use cookie cutters to create us. If that were the case, all eight billion of us would have the same DNA, wouldn’t we?

I am grateful for Your work in my life, and that I can and should look back on my life and study it and learn from it. It is not a looking back, like Lot’s wife, where I regret that I have left some things behind. That is looking back and longing. I prefer to look back to learn, to learn from the times where I can see Your hand at work, and to learn from the times where I ignored Your hand and went my own way. It turns out that Your love and compassion for me worked through those times, even.

I am also thankful for that love and compassion that drives Your provision for Your people. We are quick to be able to quote the numbers, how many people were fed, how many loaves the little boy had, and how many baskets of food were left over. We like to memorize statistics. But we miss the point when we do that. With only a couple of fish and some loaves of bread, the miracle would have been just as powerful if fifty people were fed. The numbers are not the point. Your love, compassion, and overwhelming provision are the point. The same love that dropped manna from the sky for Your people, Israel, who were also quick to forget Your love and compassion only days after they had seen the miracle of the Red Sea parting and their enemies’ chariots drowned in the same sea.

Forgive us for being so quick to forget, and help us to remember to study; both Your written Word as well as the past events of our lives. I thank You for people like George MacDonald, Eugene Peterson, Richard J Foster, and Emilie Griffin (and others) who have written so that we can more easily remember.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.

Back To the Basics

“Our opinions and arguments on world affairs make nothing happen, but several times a day, we have chances at peacemaking, praying, and loving that implement the kingdom.”

It is Friday, the eighteenth of March, 2022, in the second week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ be upon you, today!

Day 23,381

Nothing much happened, yesterday, as it was a pretty lazy day for me. I did finish another book, which I will get posted at my other blog, at some point, today.

Today’s my day in Computer Center, which is always nice, and usually pretty laid back. And hopefully, the manager and I can get my PC taken care of, during the day.

There may be Freebird’s for dinner.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Reinvention,” by S. Michaels (LightWriters)

Life is what happens
when new creation
overtakes all doubts

©2022 S. Michaels
Another Springtime
(Haiku 5-5-5)

As always, I encourage you to click on the link, as there is always a lovely photograph that accompanies the poem.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
(Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that I am alive and breathing, and I woke up this morning
2. that, by the power of God's Spirit, I have all that I need for life and godliness; I do need to practice the disciplines to strengthen and develop what I have, though, just like physical muscles
3. for my brothers and sisters in Christ, as our faith increases and our love for one another increases (hopefully)
4. that I can practice the presence of God in any circumstance, even cooking and cleaning
5. for the opportunities to practice love and prayer that will come my way today

The prayer word for today is “increase.” This is a word that has some dangerous connotations. For example, it seems to have ties to the almost cultic outbreak of the “prayer of Jabez” a few decades ago. But the idea presented by the reading today is an increase of characteristics such as the fruit of the Spirit.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
(Luke 2:52 ESV)

Note that Jesus did not increase in property, wealth, and territory.

The writer, identified only as “Jeanette,” speaks of needing an increase in patience, only to hear from the Lord that she already has all the patience (along with the rest of the fruit of the Spirit) that she needs, she just needs to “exercise it.”

Could it be that that is how this works?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Yes, the fruit of the Spirit is a lot like muscles. If you exercise them, they get stronger. You already have all the muscles you are going to have. But, through discipline, you can develop those muscles and make them stronger. So it goes with Christ-like traits. This is why we have the “spiritual disciplines” or practices. So that we can develop and strengthen love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Scripture tells us that we already have all of those that we need.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
(2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

One more way I like to use the word “increase.”

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
(John 3:30 ESV)

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
(Romans 12:10 ESV)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
(2 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV)

There’s that word again, “increasing.” In this case, it is our love for one another. There is a reason that I harp on love all the time, here. As a general rule, we humans are pretty bad at our performance of Romans 12:10.

Eugene H. Peterson quotes William Blake, who said, “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars” (Selections from ‘Jerusalem’ [The Holiness of Minute Particulars]).

Peterson considers love and prayer to be among those “Minute Particulars” of which Blake speaks. These are things that we can carry out in our immediate circumstances, regardless of where we are.

“Our opinions and arguments on world affairs make nothing happen, but several times a day, we have chances at peacemaking, praying, and loving that implement the kingdom.”

Read that again. Read it until it sinks in. Remember that thing that Amy Grant said, that I keep going back to? We two jobs . . . love God and love people, and our opinions about controversial matters don’t factor into the job descriptions for either job.

We go through life accumulating debris, stuff we may have needed, at one time in our lives, but need no longer. That debris causes fatigue in our lives. Just like we must occasionally do house cleaning, we need to “get rid of whatever is interfering with who we want to be before God and with each other. Wise Christians go back to the basics.”

Peterson then takes a couple paragraphs to talk about the famous Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence, who wrote Practicing the Presence of God. Inspired by a dry, leafless, winter tree, Brother Lawrence decided to let spring come in his life, “letting the life of Christ take root and blossom in his whole being.” He spent the rest of his life “among pots and pans. He cooked meals, baked bread, and swept the kitchen floor, all the while practicing the presence of God.”

The practice of the presence of God is “simple, but not easy. Basic, but not elementary. It takes determined attention to be simple. It takes all the help we can get to be basic.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Father, help me to practice Your presence today, as I sit in the Computer Center, as I sort books, as I shelve books, and as I assist patrons in doing whatever they need. Help me to set aside my opinions and arguments, things that have absolutely not bearing on world situations, so that I may faithfully practice love and prayer whenever the opportunity arises.

Help me to decrease while Christ increases in my life.

Help me to declutter my life, both spiritual and physical/material.

Help me get back to the basic.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.