Look

Today is Saturday, the fourteenth of May, 2022, in the fourth week of May.

May the peace of Christ be with you, today!

Day 23,438

I initially published this without coming back up and adding a few things.

This is my Saturday to work, so I will be in the circulation department of the Hurst Public Library, today.

The Texas Rangers lost to the Boston Red Sox, last night, 7-1. Not a good showing at all, as Rick Pivetta pretty much shut down the Rangers bats, and the notorious Boston bullpen didn’t have to work very hard. Dane Dunning got his second loss of the season. The Rangers are now 13-18 for the season, but remain in fourth place in the AL West, as the Athletics also lost. The Sox are 12-20, still in last place in the AL East, 12 games behind the Yankees. The two teams will play again today, at 6:05 CDT. Glenn Otto will start for the Rangers.

The Yankees continue to hold the best record in MLB, with 24-8 on the season. The Reds continue to have the worst record, but also continue to improve, as they have a three-game win streak. Since the Tigers won, yesterday, the Reds are now the only remaining team that has yet to win ten games. They are 9-24.

The Astros continue to have the longest win streak with 11 consecutive wins. The Rockies and Blue Jays continue to have the longest losing streak, now at five games. The Dodgers have the highest positive run differential, at +74, and the Reds have the highest negative differential, at -62. The Rangers are close to the middle of the pack, with -11. Last night’s loss by six runs tied the worst lost they have had this season.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord our God, almighty and holy One, whose glory shines upon the earth so that we may find joy in you and may live rejoicing in all your loving-kindness, spread out your hands in blessing over all people. Spread your blessing over the happy and the sad, over the courageous and the weak. Shepherd them in your love, in the great grace you have given through Jesus Christ, confirmed in us through the Holy Spirit. Do not let us remain degraded and worthless. Lift our hearts above what is transitory, for you have given us something eternal to live by. Help us every day so that we can reach the goal you have set for us, for many others, and finally for all peoples of the earth. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough)

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
(Romans 5:1-2 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. that we have peace with God because of what Jesus has done
2. for the light and truth of God, sent out from Him to guide me into His presence (Psalm 43)
3. for the example of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, given by Jesus in Matthew 6
4. for Paul's command in Romans 12 to outdo one another in showing honor to each other
5. for the community of saints, in which we all help each other stay on the path
Send out your light and your truth; 
let them guide me. 
Let them lead me to your holy mountain,
 to the place where you live. 
There I will go to the altar of God, 
to God—the source of all my joy.
 I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! 
Why am I discouraged? 
Why is my heart so sad? 
I will put my hope in God! 
I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!
(Psalms 43:3-5 NLT)

Today’s prayer word is “blossom.” Algernon Charles Swinburne, English poet, is quoted as saying, “Blossom by blossom the spring begins.”

This is not a word that appears in Scripture very often. It is normally associated with Spring. The appropriateness of this reading for today would largely depend, I suppose on where one lives. It’s mid-May, so “Spring is in the air, right?” Except I live in the DFW area of Texas, where we are currently edging toward triple-digit temperatures. We already had our “week” of Spring.

However, I do find some references to “blossom” in places like Isaiah.

The time is coming when Jacob’s descendants will take root. Israel will bud and blossom and fill the whole earth with fruit!
(Isaiah 27:6 NLT)

Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days. The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
(Isaiah 35:1 NLT)

The LORD will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.
(Isaiah 51:3 NLT)

Then there are a couple references in the last chapter of Hosea.

"I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. Its branches will spread out like beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedars of Lebanon. My people will again live under my shade. They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines. They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon. 
“O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.” 
Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those with discernment listen carefully. The paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But in those paths sinners stumble and fall.
(Hosea 14:5-9 NLT)

It is the Lord’s great mercy and grace that give life. When our hearts feel barren, or bereft of hope, the Holy Spirit will cause us to blossom with new life.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, I pray for Your grace and mercy to flourish within Your people, blossoming into hope and joy, as we walk through this world in Your kingdom. We definitely have reason to be concerned, if we allow our awareness to focus on the wrong things. But help us to focus on You, and on Your promises, those “great and precious promises” that You have given us, that we might share in Your divine nature.

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
(Romans 12:10 NLT)

This is something that I will never stop writing about, whenever the opportunity arises. This verse comes right on the heels of verse 9, which I have featured a few times, here.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
(Romans 12:9 NLT)

There are, of course, a variety of translations for verse 10. While the NLT says “take delight in honoring,” the ESV words is, “Outdo one another in showing honor,” almost making it a competition to see who can honor each other the most. How cool would that be, if the church (small c) would do that, rather than people seeking their own honor? The NIV simply says, “Honor one another above yourselves.” Not so much a competition, just a simple act of looking at someone else as being more important than one’s self. I like that, and the NLT, a little better. Because, if we take the mindset of the ESV and attempt to outdo one another, then it might be done in the pretense that is forbidden in verse 9.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.
(1 Peter 3:8-9 NLT)

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
(Colossians 4:5-6 NLT)

Here’s the thing. We never know when someone is in desperate need of some grace. When someone cuts us off in traffic, or drives aggressively, we seem to always assume that that person is just rude and inconsiderate. But, in truth, we know absolutely nothing about that person (more than likely). I believe that the Lord would have us assume something different. I believe that, if we are going to make the mistake of assuming (we all know what happens when you assume, right?), we should err on the side of grace, and assume that something is troubling that person. What if we prayed for them instead of grumbling, or, ever worse, flipping them off?

The world is in desperate need of grace, right now, and I fear that what it is seeing from the “church” (small c, again) is anything but grace. They are seeing whining and complaining about “freedoms” and “rights.” When, all the while, the Gospel message is telling us, quite plainly, that we are supposed to be honoring one another above ourselves, even to the point of outdoing one another in this effort.

I also believe that this is what we will see coming out of the true Church (Capital C, the Body of Christ). There’s an old Gospel song that I used to sing. “The Church Triumphant (Is Alive and Well).” That’s true, when you use the capital C Church, the Body of Christ. Not so much the “church,” which is, for the most part, a human institution.

Father, teach us to live in the country of grace, where we willingly and eagerly honor one another over ourselves. Help us to take our focus off of “freedoms” and “rights,” and remember that we have surrendered those to You. Yes, in Christ, we have been made “free,” but this freedom is the freedom that enables us to obey Paul’s commands in Romans 12, to not just pretend to love, but to really love, and to outdo one another in showing honor, to consider others to be more significant than ourselves. By doing this, we will show the world that there is truly a better way to live.

In light of the recent examination of some of Martin Luther’s words, in the past week, we might also consider that our reaction toward people might be a symptom of our own failure to trust God with our anxieties. Consider the following questions.

  1. “Are there time when I am crippled by anxiety and stress? Do I sometimes take my feeling of worry and anxiety out on other people in my circle? How can Jesus’ counsel help me with this?”
  2. “What concrete steps might I take to develop a deeper trust in God?”

The reference to Jesus’s counsel in the first question refers to the passage in Matthew 6 that was examined during those readings from Martin Luther.

Jesus spoke of birds and flowers, so it might be wise to do what He said to do. Jesus said, “Look at the birds. . . . Look at the lilies of the field.” Don’t just think about them. Actually go out and look at them; watch them.

At one point, Luther mentions “the concern of love.” This, we believe, is “a focused concern for the well-being of others,” while a “greedy concern,” well, you can imagine . . . it refers to the concern of the selfish heart.

These are all issues with which we must wrestle, ourselves. There is no cookie-cutter answer, for all of our circumstances are unique. Luther’s writing gives us “the idea of a life free from ulcer-generating anxiety,” and leaves us “with the responsibility of translating the reality into [our] life circumstances.” And, to help us, “we have as many teachers and preachers as there are birds in the air, as many theologians and masters as there are flowers in the field.”

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

Father, these are words that help us to continue to grapple with the issues of loving one another and considering one another more significant or honorable than ourselves. When we get caught up in “greedy concern,” we are focusing on our own needs and our own selfish hearts. And I certainly know how selfish my own heart can be. I still grapple with this, every day. Your Spirit, though, helps me set self aside and care more for others, and I thank You for this! I pray that this would be a common occurrence within the confines of Your Church, Father. May the Body of Christ live as Christ lived, caring for each other, and caring for those around us.

I also pray, Father, that You remind us how much we need each other to keep us on the path. It is too easy to lose our focus and forget that our lives are pretty much simply wrapped up in You and us. When I began this journey of faith, it was You and me. But things get cluttered and I frequently lose my way as I get sidetracked by things of the world and distracted by my own selfish ways. When I get back in community, when we, the Church, embrace one another and greet one another and pray for one another, it gets back to where it is just us and You. Jesus, Your Son, is the center of it all. Help us to keep Him the center.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
(John 13:34-35 NLT)

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.

Help!

Today is Wednesday, the thirtieth of March, 2022, in the fourth week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ rain down on you today!

Day 23,393

I just realized that I published this without adding any personal stuff, but I didn’t really have anything to add, today, anyway. So straight on to the devotional.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Come to God,” by Daryl Madden

God welcomes us
With a sunrise’s beauty
Come receive His love
Welcome Him into me

God’s seeking us
In gifts everywhere
Come find His love
With our soul, be aware

God’s calling us
With opportunities
Come share His love
With the lost and needy

God’s wanting us
In Him to be
Come be His love
For eternity

What a beautiful invitation, especially that last stanza. There is, I fear, much misunderstanding surrounding God and His purposes. He desires us to be “His love for eternity.” Please check out more of Daryl’s inspirational poems at the link provided above.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the simplicity of the love of God; how deep and how mighty, yet how simple
2. that I am alive and breathing
3. that God is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:20)
4. for the easy yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)
5. that God will do what He says He will do

Today’s prayer word is “help.” And the quote at the top comes from a book that I have had on my TBR list for a while, now.

“This is a hard planet, and we’re a vulnerable species. And all I can do is pray: Help.” ~ Anne Lamott, in Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers..

The writer, known only as “Bob,” says that “help” is “the most instinctive prayer we ever prayed.” And the God of the universe, to whom we pray is “our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20).

And then there’s this cool Beatles song, too.

(From Pray a Word a Day)(Except for, of course, The Beatles)

For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.
(Psalms 72:12 ESV)

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 ESV)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
(1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 ESV)

Do you see it in there? Not only can we cry out to God for “help,” but we are also responsible, even obligated to “help” others.

Many times in our lives, in our walk with Christ, we feel unworthy. We feel the condemnation (even though God clearly tells us there is none) because of serious wrongs that we have done. Even though we have known Christ’s redemption, and know in our minds that He has forgiven us, we still struggle with this deep remorse. And the remorse is fitting, because the Spirit of God has awakened this within us.

But we must, says John Wesley, “transcend it in trust.” The Spirit has given us these words:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
(Job 19:25 ESV)

Interestingly, Wesley’s translation has the word “vindicator” instead of “Redeemer.”

The Spirit also gives us these words:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ESV)

In that faith, we are set free from the bondage of past sins. And remember these beautiful words, as well:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
(Psalms 103:11-12 ESV)

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

Eugene Peterson reminds us that we are invited, by our Father, “to leap, to live, and to love: to leap from the visible uncertainties of self to the invisible certainties of faith, to live intensely instead of eagerly and dully, and to love directly and personally and not secondhand.”

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

Father, there are certainly times in my life when all I could do was pray, “Help!” And You answered; You helped, just as You promise You will. My life, my hope, and my trust are all built on the foundation that You will do what You say You will do. If I trusted my own faithfulness or steadfastness, my life would have been over years ago. But I trust Your faithfulness, Your steadfast love, and Your promises. I trust in who You are and what You say You will do.

You are my help and my shield; You are my Rock and my salvation, my Redeemer and my Deliverer. I praise You, my God. And now, help me to go out into this day, to leap into faith, to live intensely and to love directly, all in the power of Your Holy Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
(Traditional Doxology)

Grace and peace, friends.

In Solitude, But Not Alone

Today is Tuesday, the twenty-ninth of March, 2022, in the fourth week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ be with you, today!

Day 23,392

As expected, my work schedule is changing, pretty much immediately. It’s not a terribly drastic change, and there is only a mild down-side to it. I was asked, yesterday after noon, if I would consider switching from Fridays to Thursdays for my every-week Computer Center shift. I will be working from 11:15AM to 8:15PM every Thursday, going forward. The down-side to this is that it will be two nights a week that I basically don’t have any family time. But, I now have Fridays off, and every other week, I will have a four-day weekend! Of course, it is also true that every other week I will be working three consecutive days, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

As this is beginning right away, I will be off this Friday, but will not work Thursday until next week, as I already have twenty hours scheduled for this pay period. The pay week begins on Fridays, so for the next pay week, I will be working Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday for my twenty hours. Another bonus is that I will now be off for Mama’s birthday, which is a week from this Friday!

C and I enjoyed the couples massage so much that we are scheduling one for Mother’s Day.

And today is R’s birthday. Happy birthday to R!

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"God of grace and truth,
make me whole,
a person of integrity who heals and makes peace.
I pray for eyes that see what's best in others,
a graceful and candid mouth,
hands that never twist but hold up truth,
a heart that aims to encourage,
and feet that pursue my neighbor's best.
Amen."

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
(Numbers 23:19 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that "God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind" (Numbers 23:19)
2. for times of solitude, essential for re-energizing the spirit
3. for Biblical accounts of dreams and visions
4. that there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus
5. that nothing, not even my sin, can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (see number 4 if you doubt that)

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
(Matthew 23:12 ESV)

Today’s prayer word is “solitude.” To me, this is not so much a word to be used in prayer as it is a condition that is helpful to prayer. Solitude is one of the classic spiritual disciplines, going hand in hand with silence, meditation, and prayer.

I find the quote at the beginning of the reading to be interesting. “The happiest of all lives is a busy solitude.” (Voltaire)

The thing is, when we observe solitude, we are not truly alone. To be certain, there are no other humans around, and, hopefully, we can find a place where the outside noise is either at a minimum, or purely nature sounds. I can sit in my back yard and be in solitude, but there is a lot of noise around. Even so, I am not “alone,” because my Father is with me, via the Holy Spirit.

Here’s another thing about solitude. My wife and I have sat in canvas chairs, on the banks of the Paluxy river, in Glen Rose, and I have felt “solitude.” So, yes, I believe that solitude can be observed or practiced, even in the presence of another.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
(Mark 1:35 NIV)

At about that same time he climbed a mountain to pray. He was there all night in prayer before God.
(Luke 6:12 MSG)

In the Luke passage, I believe solitude is implied. We see, in the life of Jesus, that He spent both time with people, and time alone with God. Both are important. As a mostly introvert (INFJ), I can recognize this, but being around a lot of people is tiresome for me, especially when I don’t know some of them. The INFJ person is energized by alone time, but also prioritizes people and emotions.

So solitude is important, not just for introverts, but for anyone who desires discipline in their lives, especially discipline regarding prayer and meditation.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.
(Psalms 104:33-34 NIV)

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
(Joshua 1:8 NIV)

I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.
(Psalms 77:11-12 NIV)

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
(Psalms 119:147-148 NIV)

These are also verses that go well with the concept/discipline of solitude.

I’m reading, in Spiritual Classics, an excerpt from a book by John Wesley, called The New Birth. In this excerpt, said to be from Chapter 3, he is discussing sin and condemnation. We are all familiar with the popular verse from Romans 8.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 8:1 ESV)

And, when we read the Old Testament, we see all kinds of sacrifices and provisions for unintentional sin, sin that might occur either by accident, or simply out of ignorance. But for intentional sin, or flat-out disobedience, there doesn’t seem to be any provision.

I like what Wesley has to say about this. “Believers who are weak in faith may be overcome by these assaults; they may become inordinately angry or think badly of others with only a very slight concurrence of the will.” God will show us, in such cases, that we have “acted foolishly,” and convince us that we have “swerved away from the perfect law, from the mind which was in Christ.” As a result, we will feel “grieved with a godly sorrow and lovingly ashamed before God.” However, there is no need, he says to feel condemnation! “God does not charge them with folly, but has compassion, even ‘as a father has compassion on his children’ (Ps. 103:12).” We have the confidence to say,

See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. The LORD GOD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.” With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!
(Isaiah 12:2-3 NLT)

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

“Most of life consists of what we cannot usually see. Dreams and visions are means of seeing the reality that is inaccessible to our senses.”

Thus begins a reading by Eugene Peterson, called “On Dreams and Visions.” He goes on to describe the implements that we use to see very small things (microscopes) and things very far away (telescopes). But, he says, “we use dreams and visions to see the truth.”

For modern Christians like me, this is a difficult thing to “wrap my head around.” Sure, I’ve had dreams. But not the kind, at least as far as I know, that reveal truth. And, to my knowledge, I have had no “visions.”

Nevertheless, this world fights to “externalize us.” In other words, it wants to “diminish the rich interiors of our lives and reduce us to what we can see and pick up and buy.” Even the most well-meaning Christians fall prey to the extravagance of showy production “worship services” with flashing lights, smoke machines, and loud, boisterous music.

“We define ourselves by what we can put on a job description. God gives us dreams and visions so that we have access to the whole thing: the world for which Christ died, the whole person in whom Christ lives.”

The Bible is full of accounts of dreams and visions: Abraham, Jacob, Balaam, Solomon, Mary, and Joseph, to name a few. I have to ask, why would it be different for me, for us? I read about these remarkable events, and my life deepens and my world changes a little bit.

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

And, I come around, full-circle again, to the prayer word.

Solitude.

Solitude, which accompanies and enhances the discipline of meditation and contemplation, which is where we know the strength of God, His great salvation, His awesome forgiveness (and lack of condemnation), our hope, our success and prosperity (not necessarily material, mind you), and reflection on His wonderful and mighty deeds, both in our own lives and in history. And solitude, where the possibility of dreams and visions increases.

Father, I’m not worried about dreams and visions. In the same way that I’m not all that concerned that I don’t witness astonishing miracles that people in biblical times saw. I do wonder, sometimes, why we do not see those, but it does not shake my faith, any more than questioning things that I grew up believing shakes my faith, because that has happened, as well. I guess it could be said that, for me “deconstruction” is nothing new . . . I’ve been doing that since I got to college, and here I am today, with faith as strong as ever.

I praise Your marvelous and holy name that there is no condemnation for my sins, even for those of outright, blatant disobedience, because of the fact that I am in Christ Jesus. Doesn’t mean I don’t feel sorrow for those sins, or shame because of my failure. Those are the same thing as condemnation. I firmly believe that my sin does not separate me from You (there are some who still teach that, and I think they are wrong). But I thank You that Your Holy Spirit is there to convict me and remind me when I do fall into doing/saying/thinking things that a follower Christ should not do/say/think.

I thank You for the times of solitude that I am able to find. Sometimes, they are simply the act of sitting here, alone in my study, reading Your Word, meditating on Your truth, and praying to you. My favorite times are when I can get away from all the technology and noise and simply sit outside somewhere and observe Your creation while contemplating Your presence and Your glory. Thank You for those times and those places. I pray that we will be able to escape to one of them, soon.

I will say, though, Father, that, should You choose to bless me with dreams and/or visions, I would welcome them. I would welcome anything in my life that would draw me closer to You, both in body and in spirit.

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

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

"Love one another;
This is how they know you're Mine;
Love one another."
(Inspired by John 13:34-35)

Grace and peace, friends.

“Come Quickly, Lord, to Help Me”

Today is Wednesday, the twenty-third of March, 2022, in the third week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ reign in your heart today.

Day 23,386

Yesterday turned out to be a very good day. We got S to her appointment early, and the doctor was ready, so we started early. The setting was a bit unexpected, being in an old office building in The Stockyards of Fort Worth. He had a single room office on the second floor, down a narrow hallway from the elevator. However, the man was charmingly friendly, and upbeat, reassuring us from the start that there would likely be no change in S’s status with the SSA.

There was a brief “interview,” for which C and I were allowed to stay and help with answers. After that, though, there was some testing, for which we had to leave the office. He said it would be a couple of hours, so we set off walking back to Main St., to see if we could find some coffee and breakfast. It was windy and cold, and C didn’t wear a jacket. She was in long sleeves, but it was still chilly. We found a place called The Biscuit Bar. The first place we went into was just a coffee shop, with no real food offerings. It smelled really nice, though.

The Biscuit Bar was just okay. The menu looked good (although a bit pricey), but their coffee machine was on the fritz, so they only had plain black coffee (which was all we wanted, but still not a good thing), and they only had one kind of soda available. There were a lot of “out of order” signs on their self-serve devices. The food was just okay. It wasn’t hot at all, and my tots were practically room temperature. We definitely would not go back there.

After breakfast, we looked for a place to shop, but none of the shops opened until 11:00 AM, and it was just after 10:00. So we headed back to the office building and sat in chairs across the hall from the office. We hadn’t been there long when I got a text from the doctor saying that they were almost finished. He gave us a verbal report when we went back in, and not much had changed. S’s IQ was actually a few points lower, but that is because, he explained, she is older than the last test. The level didn’t actually declined, there is just a bigger gap between her age and the level at which she is performing. Ironically, she spells at a collegiate level, and can read words at an eleventh grade level. However, her comprehension and math skills are at about fifth grade.

He saw no reason for her status to change, going forward. That is good news. So, hopefully, she will begin receiving her SS benefits from my record soon, and we will get her on Medicare.

We had a late lunch, and then I went to my evening shift at the library, which was pretty nice. I’m off today, and not planning to do much at all. I even slept until almost 8:00, this morning.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

A Holy Invitation,” by Daryl Madden

It’s so beautiful
A Holy invitation
Of us to reflect
On our Lord’s creation

A practice so important
To be aware and find
Precious little moments
To draw unto divine

For its these little moments
As rain drops fill the sea
That prepare the soul
For greater ones to be

So draw close to Him
Through nature of a prayer
With vision of His view
A taste of heaven here

Please check out Daryl’s other poems at the link provided.

And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”
(Matthew 20:32-33 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for good results from S's evaluation, yesterday
2. for a day with no real "agenda" today
3. for that question from Jesus, "What do you want me to do for you?"
4. for the constant presence of God in my life
5. for the knowledge that I can be "strong and courageous" when I am doing the work that He has set forth for me, knowing full well that He will never leave nor forsake me

Today’s prayer word is “come.” The thought is a prayer for Jesus to come help us.

But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
(Psalms 22:19 NIV)

This is not the only place where that phrase occurs.

Be pleased to save me, LORD; come quickly, LORD, to help me.
(Psalms 40:13 NIV)

You probably have noticed that I close out every day’s prayer with these words.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

We know that God is not removed from us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nevertheless, we do not always feel that presence. It is not unthinkable nor unacceptable to need to pray that prayer, “Come quickly, Lord, to help me.” And, in fact, simply taking a deep breath, closing one’s eyes and whispering, “Come,” can be helpful.

This is good to remember when circumstances become overwhelming. I have been also known to breathe the “Jesus prayer,” multiple times a day.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

While it does not contain the word or request to “come,” it has, in my opinion, the same effect.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.
(1 Chronicles 28:20 NIV)

Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry.
(Proverbs 19:15 NIV)

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

After we pray for the Lord to come quickly and help us, our typical response should not be to just sit and wait. There are times when that is acceptable, when we need to simply “be still and know.” But most of the time, we should either get busy working or keep working on whatever it is we are doing. David reminds Solomon to be strong and courageous, but also adds the phrase “do the work.” And it is possibly Solomon who tells us later,

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.
(Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 ESV)

You may say, “that’s easy for you to say, you’re retired!” True, but I still “work.” I have work to do, around the house, and I have my wonderful part-time job at the library, which, as delightful as it is, is still “work.” But I also have the “work” of being faithful to God and proclaiming my gratitude each day. This, too, is “work” that we need to be about. Each of us has different “work” to do, and it isn’t always about the nine-to-five that gets you your paycheck.

So, after you pray to God to come quickly and help you, get busy doing the work that He has for you to do. And be “strong and courageous” about it, because He is with you.

I love what Eugene Peterson says in the short reading called “The Unspeakable Ordinary.” And, once again, this hearkens back to the mention of Brother Laurence, the other day, and his pots and pans.

“We do not become more spiritual by becoming less material. The life of faith takes place where there are rocks and water.” Our lives of faith are mixed in with everything else in our lives: “violence and sex and greed and commerce and government.” Life is unspeakably ordinary, for most of us, and this is where we meet God. We do not become more spiritual by trying to extricate ourselves from this life. The life of faith is quite ordinary.

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

I haven’t taken a look, yet, this week, at the selection on Fasting in Spiritual Classics. This segment is from William Law (1686-1761), and Anglican Priest who lived during the Enlightenment. His most famous writing is called A Serious Call To A Devout and Holy Life.

In this book, Law makes a distinction, in the idea of “private prayer,” to say that “Private prayer . . . does not suppose that no one is to have any witness of it.” He strongly encourages that we should allow near relations to witness our devotion. Then he uses the same word that Augustine used, “ostentation.” Let me look that up again. It means, “pretentious and vulgar display, especially of wealth and luxury, intended to impress or attract notice.” I have added the emphasis.

We are not to “make public ostentation to the world of our fasting,” says Law. So, the idea of “private prayer” or “private fasting” has more to do with the motivation and heart behind it than it does to do with who witnesses it.

Law brings up the record of Cornelius, from the book of Acts. “Now that this fasting was sufficiently private and acceptable to God appears from the vision of an angel with which the holy man was blessed at that time.” Yet, Cornelius’s family and household servants must have been aware of this fasting, “and were made devout themselves by continually waiting upon him, that is, by seeing and partaking of his good works.”

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.'”
(Acts 10:30-31 ESV)

We must not allow legalism to turn Jesus’s words into absurdity. Law even adds what seems to be a bit of humor (in my opinion) when he says, “For if no one was to fast in private or could be said to fast in private but he that had no witnesses of it, no one could keep a private fast but he that lived by himself.”

Oddly, it may be the case that Law used the Gentile Cornelius as his example because the legalists of his day might be inclined to not accept Cornelius as acceptable to God. This might cause Law’s modern readers (you and me) to take a step back and examine our own tendency to legalism. .

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

Father, I rejoice in the truth that You will never leave nor forsake me, and that I can be “strong and courageous” as I tend to the tasks that You have placed in my life, be they as mundane as sweeping floors and washing pots and pans. Nevertheless, when I begin to feel overwhelmed by anything at all, remind me, by Your Holy Spirit, that all I need to do is whisper “come quickly to help me” and You are right there with me.

I thank You for the example that William Law has given us, in regard to private prayer and fasting, because it sheds “new” light on the subject. Help me to not ever be ostentatious in my prayer or fasting. May it never be for the vulgar purpose of impressing or attracting notice. Keep me humble, Father.

As I walk through the rest of this day, may I find myself resting in Your love and mercy, rejoicing that Your mercies are “new every morning,” and that Your faithfulness is great. I love You, Lord.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Gobsmacked

“Jesus is leading us to the death of illusions, and illusions die hard. Jesus is leading us to the death of self-will, and self-will is a stubborn survivor. Jesus is leading us to the death of sin, and sin is a cat with nine lives. Jesus is leading us to the Lenten death that will catapult us into the Easter resurrection.”

Today is Thursday, the seventeenth of March, 2022, in the second week of Lent.

Peace be with you.

Day 23,380

Today is also St. Patrick’s Day. March is a busy month. St. Patrick’s, Ides of March, my birthday, Spring Break, and the Vernal Equinox. Oh, and the change to fake time, which may be on the verge of being permanent real time.

It was a pretty quiet day at the library, yesterday. I didn’t know what to expect, it being Spring Break. But it was also a beautiful day outside, so that may be why we didn’t get a lot of traffic. I’m off today, and will be back in the Computer Center, tomorrow.

The weather is pretty nice again today, with a high of 78 predicted, but possible thunderstorms late this afternoon.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
(Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for a growing sense of awe, wonder, and mystery surrounding my Father in heaven
2. for the utterly astonishing mercy, unconditional love, and faithfulness of God; I am gobsmacked
3. for the community of saints; oh, how we need each other
4. that, though I may not be the wisest, the mightiest, or the richest, I can boast I know the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
5. that Jesus teaches me to die so that I can live

Today’s prayer word is “glorious.”

Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
(1 Chronicles 29:13 NIV)

There are a lot of things that we might think are “glorious.” But truly, our God is the only One worthy of the adjective. One of the definitions is, “having a striking beauty or splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration.” There are many things in our physical world that might evoke such feelings. A beautiful sunset, the ocean waves crashing on the shore, whether it be rocks or a sand beach, a beautiful mountain range, or a dense, green forest. I have seen all of these things.

I have not “seen” God. Yet I know that He is beautiful; He has a striking beauty and splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration in me. Therefore, He is glorious. In the words of one known only as “Susanna,” “I am stunned by His mercy. I am gobsmacked by His unconditional love. I am awed by His faithfulness.” Yes, she said “gobsmacked.” That’s a British adjective that means, “utterly astonished; astounded.”

I, too, am all of those things in the presence of God.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”
(John 7:38 ESV)

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.
(Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 ESV)

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 4:4 ESV)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)

It’s only two paragraphs, so I’m going to quote the Peterson reading in its entirety.

“A gospel paradox: in getting us ready to live, Jesus gets us ready to die. First he gets himself ready to die so that he can live. Then he gets us ready. Our habit is to think life first, then death. Jesus radicalizes our perceptions: first death, then life. This death is not primarily biological, although it will eventually include that.

“Jesus is leading us to the death of illusions, and illusions die hard. Jesus is leading us to the death of self-will, and self-will is a stubborn survivor. Jesus is leading us to the death of sin, and sin is a cat with nine lives. Jesus is leading us to the Lenten death that will catapult us into the Easter resurrection.”

“Death, Then Life” is the title of this reading. Just as we have traditionally gotten evening and morning reversed in our thinking (the ancient Hebrews considered evening as the beginning of the new day), we may have the whole death and life thing reversed. In order to truly live, a lot of things must die first.

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

As I continue looking at Augustine’s writing on fasting, I see that he uses a word that is not used much these days. “Ostentation” is indicated as something that should be avoided in fasting. What is that? It means, “pretentious and vulgar display, especially of wealth and luxury, intended to impress or attract notice.” I’ve seen the word “ostentatious” a number of times, and confess that I was unclear on its meaning. Now I’m more clear.

Jesus spoke of this in the Gospel accounts, in the Sermon on the Mount.

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

So, instead of ostentation, we are to exhibit joy when we are fasting, not sadness or gloominess. If we practice fasting in order to attract the attention of others, Jesus is quite clear that that will be the extent of our reward.

“In his fasting, therefore, let a man rejoice inwardly in the very fact that by this his fasting he is turning away from the pleasures of the world to make himself subject to Christ, who in the words of this precept wants him to have his head anointed. With the same intent he will be washing his face, that is, cleansing his heart whereby he is to see God.”

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

Father, indeed, you are glorious, and I am, indeed, “gobsmacked” by Your mercy, faithfulness, and unconditional love. It is all of these things, along with Your great kindness, that lead me down the ongoing path of repentance, constantly revising the way I think about reality. And reality, for me, is what I run into when I am wrong. And I’m wrong a lot. Oh, how I love You, Lord! Your glory is everlasting and beyond my comprehension. The word “glorious” isn’t even adequate to describe You.

I am so very grateful that I know You, Lord, and that is the only truth in my life that is worth boasting about. Well, maybe not the only truth. I feel justified in boasting about the things in my life that You have placed there, such as my loving wife and family. But all of the things that I could boast about have come from You, and are from nothing “good” that I did. I am not very wise, not very mighty, and my “riches” are made up by much more than material things.

I praise You that I have been, for the most part, delivered from any kind of envy about anything that my “neighbor” might have. I am, by Your grace and Holy Spirit, quite content with all that I have. I am also praising You for the relationships that I have that make life so much easier, beginning with my family, and continuing into the community of saints, and I use the definition of saints that says that it is everyone who calls on the name of Jesus.

Thank You for teaching me how to die in order to live. We’re still working on that, because there are plenty of places I have not yet surrendered to You. But, like I said . . . we’re working on it, and for that, I thank You for Your great, and seemingly infinite (thought I think it probably isn’t) patience with me. Help me to eradicate illusions, self-will, and sin in my life.

All glory to You, the One and only glorious God, through the Son and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Everything comes from him; 
Everything happens through him; 
Everything ends up in him. 
Always glory! 
Always praise! 
Yes. Yes. Yes. 
(Romans 11:36 MSG)

Grace and peace, friends.

Anxiety and Chesed

Today is Monday, the fourteenth of March, 2022, in the second week of Lent.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,377

Today has also become known as “Pi Day,” as it is 3/14. Pi, of course, begins with 3.14. And because of the homonym, it has also become a good day to have a piece of pie. I will not be doing that, however, because I’m going to try to get back on track with my eating habits, today. We darn nearly finished that cookie cake yesterday. I think there are a couple bites left, and I think I will let other people finish it off.

I had a wonderful day/weekend for my birthday. I got a new PS4 controller (red), which I had requested because my original controller only holds a charge for a couple of hours, now. I also got a few new books from my Amazon wishlist. They were The Healing Light, by Agnes Sanford, God’s Message for Each Day, by Eugene H. Peterson, and A Closer Walk, by Catherine Marshall. I also got a new PS4 game, Dying Light 2: Stay Human.

The Peterson book is a 365 day devotional, so I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to start it now or wait. What I may do is wait until I’ve finished the current Peterson book in my devotional arsenal, and then begin it mid-year. The other two books landed on my wishlist because of inspiration from the Spiritual Classics book I am currently reading.

We decided on Cotton Patch for lunch, yesterday, which turned out to be a delicious choice. I had a chicken fried steak, which was wonderful. We watched part of Hamilton! on Disney+ while eating lunch, and then C moved some stuff from the garage to the curb for the bulk trash pickup this week. She claims we can once again get a car in the garage. This is also because we got rid of a king-sized bed and a futon on Saturday.

This is a normal Monday for me. No work at the library, a couple of “chores,” probably, and we will attempt to get some of Mama’s billing accounts set up for automatic payment. She will likely return home to Mineral Wells, later this week, maybe just for a day. I believe she is ready to call this “home,” now. A difficult transition and decision, as it would be for anyone, and we have tried to make it completely her decision, letting her know that she is welcome here whenever she decides it is time.

This is my “long” week at the library, with shifts tomorrow evening, and all day Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. There are no threats of freezing temperatures this week, and very little threat of any precipitation, except for maybe today.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”
As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
    in whom is all my delight.
(Psalm 16:1-3 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for a wonderful weekend, with the love of family and friends
2. for cookie cakes
3. for the "chesed,", the steadfast love and mercy of God
4. that we can control what we allow our minds to dwell upon (this includes anxiety)
5. that all who are on God's side are considered "saints"

Starting today with the prayer word, which is “chesed.” That is a Hebrew word, which I’m fairly familiar with, but always need to be reminded about. Hebrew words that begin with “ch” are not pronounced like “cheese.” It’s a somewhat awkward sound for English-speaking folks, sort of a hard “H” sound, not quite “K” and not quite “H.” The e is short, in both instances. “Jewish Awareness Ministries” puts it like this: “pronounce with the guttural “ch” and two short “e’s.”  The accent is on the first syllable.”

But what does it mean? The writer, Bob, puts it like this: “Chesed is a Hebrew word from the Bible that is so rich that no English word captures its full meaning.” I agree with this statement, even with my limited knowledge of Hebrew (and by “limited” I mean hardly any). You will see this word translated in several different ways, across various translations. One translation might say “lovingkindness.” Another might say “steadfast love,” while yet another will say “mercy.” All of them are correct.

I confess that I rarely, if ever, have used this word in prayer, but I certainly have used its English renderings quite a lot. I can see, though, that it would certainly be a good word to use in prayer, in a variety of different circumstances. Perhaps after today, I will try to remember that. While I don’t believe that using another language in prayer will make God pay closer attention, I can see the value of using a word that has such rich meaning.

Wondrously show your steadfast love,
    O Savior of those who seek refuge
    from their adversaries at your right hand.
(Psalm 17:7 ESV)
Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand,
O You who save those who trust in You
From those who rise up against them.
(Psalm 17:7 NKJV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7 NASB)

Here’s something to think about. One little line in today’s Daily Guideposts 2022 reading, by Edward Grinnan.

“Too often my worries occupy the space where God’s love and grace can abide.”

That’s worth pondering for a bit. While we can never be separated from God’s love and grace, I believe it is accurate to say that they cannot abide and grow in the same space where we allow worry or anxiety to live.

It’s hard not to worry; I know this for a fact. Some of us are more inclined to it than others. To some people, anxiety is debilitating, and they actually need professional help. But for most of us, it is just a condition that we allow to thrive within our spirits, and we do have some control over that.

fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 ESV)

It’s always good to read Matthew 6:25-34. I’ll only put the last two verses here.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
(Matthew 6:33-34 ESV)

The next selection on fasting, from Spiritual Classics, is written by one of “the most important convert[s] to Christianity after St. Paul,” Augustine of Hippo. He teaches us things about fasting from a writing called “The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.” In this, he emphasizes the fact that we should not be engaging in spiritual practices or disciplines to show others how devoted or spiritual we are.

We must, when engaging in any discipline, such as fasting, be sure that “no spirit of self-display creeps in, no craving for human applause.”

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

In these disciplines, we are striving “to be directed towards inward joys,” not “outward rewards.”

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

“For a long time, all Christians called each other saints.” Thus opens a short reading from Eugene H. Peterson, this morning. All followers of Christ were “saints,” regardless of whether they were “good” Christians or not. “It was not a title given after a spectacular performance; it was a mark of whose side they were on.”

The word simply means “being set apart for God’s side.” We are not “cogwheels.” We are not “the keyboard of a piano on which circumstances play hit tunes or parade music. It means we are chosen out of the stream of circumstantiality for something important that God is doing.”

And what is God doing? The same thing he always does. (I can’t help but think of “Pinky and the Brain,” right now.)

God saving; He is rescuing, blessing, providing, judging, healing, and enlightening. “There is a spiritual war in progress in our world, an all-out moral battle. There is evil and cruelty, unhappiness and illness. There is superstition and ignorance, brutality and pain. God is in a continuous and an energetic battle against all of it.

“God is for life and against death. God is for love and against hate. God is for hope and against despair. Go is for heaven an against hell. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square foot of space is contested.”

And we, His “saints” are “enlisted on his side in the contest.”

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

Father, I embrace the words “saint” and “chesed” in today’s readings. I acknowledge Your “chesed” in all aspects of my life. Your steadfast love, Your mercy, Your lovingkindness, and all other meanings of that word are what sustains me every day. It is because of this that I am able to be considered a “saint.” I love that “saint” doesn’t have anything to do with my performance. It is human beings who have tried to change the meaning of the word, to make it indicate some kind of super-spiritual person. But, in truth, all who call the name of Jesus, who are called to be on Your side, are truly saints. The Church, the Body of Christ, is made up of saints, and this is true of us, whether we are very good at it or not. I do pray that we will all be better at it, growing constantly in the love of Christ.

It is also Your chesed that helps us when we get anxious. Your mercy and steadfast love are the best thing for us to focus on when we get anxious. Because of Your great lovingkindness, we truly have nothing to fear, looking toward that day when we will all be Home, where we will be totally and forever “safe.”

As I continue to ponder the discipline of fasting, I pray that I will never engage in any kind of spiritual discipline in order to receive the applause of men. Even this blog is not so much to get recognition or reward (if it were I would have given up long ago), but serves a couple of purposes. First, it is a record that I can go back and re-visit, if necessary, and second, it is for the potential inspiration of anyone else who happens across it. I pray that the words typed here would do just that; be an inspiration for anyone who stumbles onto it.

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

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

“O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
(Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent)

Grace and peace, friends.

Of Cats and Crocuses

“To become like him, we must be changed, shaped, and deepened by the Word of God.”

Today is Saturday, the twelfth of March, 2022, in the first week of Lent.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,375 (and my last day to be 63 years old)

And, for my birthday, I get to lose an hour of sleep. For it is time, once again, for us to convert to Daylight Saving Time for most of the rest of the year. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Today is my normal Saturday off from the library, so the day is wide open. We supposedly have someone coming around 11:00 to get our old bedframe and mattress set. I hope they show up, as it is taking up quite a bit of room in our garage. Groceries are scheduled for delivery between 1-2, and C is going to pick up a cookie cake for my birthday, around that time, as well. At some point, I have to decide what I want for dinner tonight, as I’m pretty sure I don’t want to cook burgers. But we will see.

I’m going to go ahead and jump into the devotional, now.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.
(Proverbs 30:7-9 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that we got none of the freezing stuff that was predicted, yesterday, and it's well above freezing, today
2. for the way God chisels away at me, perfecting me (eventually), making me more like Jesus
3. that we have enough
4. for crocuses and cats
5. for the example of Jesus on how to be human

I had to go back and re-read yesterday’s blog on transformation. And there is something that was in yesterday’s Daily Guideposts reading that I didn’t include in yesterday’s blog, which gave me great pause and something to ponder deeply.

The whole reading revolved around someone who, when playing soccer, was content to pass the ball to the others who would then score. The writer of the page compared this to a common phrase known as “servant-leader.” “A servant-leader thrives on making the great pass and even on seeing cheers for the one who scores. A servant-leader doesn’t need praise from the crowd but knows that the good he does is seen in heaven.”

As I continue to ponder these thoughts, I am drawn to confession; to confession that I have struggled with envy when others have received praise for doing similar things that I have done, when I perceive myself to be better. This is human emotion and desire overshadowing spiritual, godly emotions. My goal is to rise above such things. If I am called to “pass” to someone else so they can score, what of it? I am the vessel of the King, who has the right to craft me however He wants. And I must be, should be satisfied to know that He sees the “good” that I do, even if no one else does.

I pause to remember the words of Jesus who cautioned us to not give our offerings for praise of men, because, if we do that, then the praise of men will be the extent of our reward. I can’t truthfully say that I don’t want reward. But my reward is in heaven, and my reward is to spend eternity in the presence of my Father and my Savior, whatever that will look like.

Today’s prayer word is “morning.” There is a quote from Analiza Garcia, and I cannot find anything to say who that is. “Morning is the best time to thank God.”

At the risk of sounding critical, I don’t agree with that, and that is the kind of thinking that led to the legalistic practice of stressing “Quiet Times,” back in the seventies and beyond. It became something to check off on the list, you know.

Of course, that being said, I always try to begin my day with thanksgiving and some form of worship. But all times of day are the best times to thank God. And I get the intent of the day’s reading. The idea is to not jump into the day’s tasks before taking time to be thankful and pray. “Each morning is an awakening of a new day and the beauty God has surrounded me with. I am grateful,” says “Carolyn.”

And this, I do not disagree with. However, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you have failed if you don’t start your day with such thoughts. Anytime is the best time to thank God.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
(Psalm 4:4 NRSV)

Another thing the new day brings, each morning, is a new perspective on life. We often hear the admonition, “Don’t go to bed angry.” While that may be a good practice for married couples, it’s not always possible. God’s Word says it’s okay to ponder our anger while in our beds, as long as we control ourselves and maintain silence.

It is also good to see the context of that verse in the entire Psalm.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
    You gave me room when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
    How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
Selah

But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Selah

Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
    Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
    more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
(Psalm 4 NRSV)
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.
(Lamentations 3:22-24 MSG)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
(Matthew 4:1-2 NRSV)

In the reading called “On Growing,” Eugene H. Peterson speaks of how difficult it is to be human. First he compares us to a crocus.

“It is easy to be a crocus: no decisions to make, no schedules to keep, and no disappointments to endure. The crocus sleeps all winter, and then as the snow recedes and the sun warms the earth, the crocus breaks through the ground with blossoms that bring standing applause from all of us.”

He then compares us to cats (dangerous ground, in my opinion).

“It is easy to be a cat: no anxieties about aging, no perplexities about world affairs, and no guilt about real or imagined adulteries. The cat grooms itself on the carpet, purrs on any convenient lap, and holds the opinions of the servile humans in haughty disdain.” Obviously, brother Peterson had experience with cats.

In comparison, being human is not easy. “The seasons do not automatically develop us into maturity. Our instincts do not naturally guide us into a superior contentment. We falter and fail. We doubt and question. We work and learn. And just when we think we have it figured out, something else comes up that throws us for a loop.”

Our best example, of course, is Jesus (who didn’t see that coming?). “We look at him and see the incredible attractiveness and profound wonder of being a woman or a man. We also see how difficult it is. We see him in contest against every force that would diminish us into something less than human. We see him confront and deal with every influence that would divert us from living to the glory of God.”

We can get the best example of these things by looking at the things He did during those forty days of temptation. “To become like him, we must be changed, shaped, and deepened by the Word of God.”

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

And, of course, during those forty days, Jesus was also fasting. And those forty days are the inspiration for the practice of Lent. The question is brought forth, in Spiritual Classics, “Who do I see the correlation between fasting and prayer?” I see them intricately linked, almost inseparable.

Sure, I can pray without fasting, and I can pray effectively without fasting. But, I believe, if I fast without praying, I am not effectively fasting; I am missing the point.

I saw a Facebook meme the other day that showed someone’s ignorance of what Lent was all about. It said something to the effect of (and this is not a direct quote), “Maybe what people should give up for Lent is the idea that giving something up for Lent makes God love us more.”

My friends, that is NOT the purpose behind giving things up for Lent. The purpose for Lenten fasting is for prayer. It is to the end that, when tempted to indulge in something from which I am fasting, my spirit is moved to prayer. Maybe it is to pray for strength to continue the fast, but hopefully, it is to bring us to simply the idea of prayer, perhaps praying for friends, brothers, sisters, the world, countries who are in the midst of war and oppression, and things like that.

So, if I am fasting for any reason other than prayer (for example, fasting to lose weight), I am fasting for the wrong reasons. And, while I have spoken somewhat about my current Lenten fasting, we are actually not supposed to bring attention to ourselves regarding the fasting. So I repent of that, today.

As Jesus showed, in His temptations, fasting is also tied in with “spiritual warfare” (unfortunately, that is another one of those “trigger” phrases for me, not unlike “breakthrough”). But let it be known that modern man did not “discover” spiritual warfare. John Henry Newman shows us that, as a nineteenth century writer. He most definitely viewed fasting as “an accompanying means to the work of prayer; that is to say prayer is the overarching category under which fasting functions.” Note the word “means” in that sentence. Fasting is never the “end,” it is not more important than Scripture. It is “subordinate . . . in the ongoing life of prayer.”

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

Father, I am thankful for cats and crocuses, and how they can help us see the difficulties in being human. I am also thankful for the work of Jesus, as He showed us how to be human, perfectly. While we will never be able to completely mimic Him, it is not beyond us to at least try. And that is my goal, my sole purpose in life, to try to walk in the steps of my Savior, and to try to live by His words. My desire is to allow my heart to be “changed, shaped, and deepened by the Word of God.” And that “Word of God” is, indeed, Jesus Christ.

So may my life be always being changed by Him and the words He spoke and taught us. May my fastings, whenever they occur, be for the correct reason, to engage in prayer, and to, in the spirit of spiritual warfare, conquer evil as it applies to me. In the spirit of Jesus’s model prayer, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one.

I also oh, so grateful for those new mornings and those new mercies that come with each day. I am thankful for the new perspective that morning brings to my life, as I stop and ponder You and Your Word each morning. But I am also thankful that we are not locked into the legalistic idea that our devotions to You must happen at a certain time of day or they don’t count. What a silly notion, silly and “human.”

Help us humans, Father. We need all the help we can get, for we are selfish and contrary. We are also quite hypocritical, the lot of us. Help us, above all, to love one another the way Jesus loved us, in that He gave His life for us. I don’t think that we all have to physically die for each other, but we most definitely could do a better job of denying ourselves, carrying crosses, and considering each other more significant than ourselves.

Oh, and help me, please, be more willing to “pass the ball” so someone else can “score.”

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

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, 
have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
O, Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
grant us Your peace.
(Agnus Dei)

Grace and peace, friends.

One Thing

Today is Thursday, the tenth of March, 2022, in the first week of Lent.

Peace be with you.

Day 23,373

There is a lot more than “one thing” in this post . . . that should make sense by the time it’s all over.

Our home has a complete new heating and cooling system. The good people of Air King arrived yesterday morning around 10:00 AM, and finished up somewhere around 7:00 PM. If they had any problems or issues, I don’t know about them. All of our old equipment was hauled off and we basically can’t tell they were ever here.

And so far, the new system works great. The new “smart” thermostat actually has a setting (I had only dreamed that this could be possible) that automatically switches between heat and cool. And it connects to Wi-Fi, so we can control the temps from our phones, as well. How cool is that?? Allegedly, this new system will save us up to 35% on our electricity, this summer. We shall see, right? We’re due for a new billing contract soon, so we’ll see what kind of rate we can get.

The day is wide open for me, so I don’t have any real agenda. I hope to finish the book I am currently reading, an ARC version of The Lights of Prague, by Nicole Jarvis. I have about fifty pages left. After that, I will likely work on finishing This Wicked Darkness, a selection of short stories, also an ARC version that I got in exchange for a review. I also have two library books checked out. And a stack sitting on the floor next to me. Not to mention shelves and shelves of books in the house. I should be caught up in about eight hundred years.

I have just discovered, this morning, that the time change to DST occurs this Saturday night. Since I am attempting to fast from being critical, that is all I’m going to say about that.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Meanderings,” by LightWriters

Slabs of river ice
play water music
symphonies of Spring

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

You can see more of her wonderful poems at the link provided. Also, there is always a lovely picture that accompanies the short poem, which enhances it that much more, so it’s worth clicking the link.

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?
(Psalm 27:1 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the heart of gratitude that God has formed within me; it makes life so much easier to bear
2. for celebrations of birth, both into physical life and spiritual life; there  are beautiful similarities between them
3. for the fact that my security in Christ gives me strength against evil spirits in this world
4. for the reminder, today, that I need to clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience
5. for the encouragement I've received today to practice my focus

As I conclude John Henry Newman’s selection on fasting, today, he gets into the territory of “spiritual warfare,” to a degree. He speaks of the security of being in Christ, and its effect on our spiritual life. Says Newman, ” . . . evil spirits, instead of having power over us, tremble and are affrighted at every true Christian. They know he has that in him which makes him their master, that he may, if he will, laugh them to scorn, and put them to flight.” Note the word “true” before the word “Christian.” And then consider this passage from the New Testament:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
(Acts 19:13-16 NIV)

But, if we are “true Christians,” the evil spirits, or demons, will attempt to frighten us and gain power over us. “Therefore, let us be, my brethren, ‘not ignorant of their devices’; and as knowing them, let us watch, fast, and pray, let us keep close under the wings of the Almighty, that He may be our shield and buckler.”

We get a bit too frivolous with the concept of spiritual warfare, in my opinion, almost as if it is a game, or a box to check off on their Sunday School envelope. The whole purpose of fasting is to bring us closer in fellowship to the Lord. It does not get Him to love us more. That is impossible. But it calls to mind that we need to pray more. The point is, whenever I find myself tempted to partake or participate in that from which I am fasting, I am supposed to, at that very moment, stop and pray. The prayer might be about the thing I’m fasting from, or it might be for someone or something else, about which I have knowledge. Or, it might be, as Newman suggests, that He might “make known to us His will – to teach us our faults – to take from us whatever may offend Him – and to lead us in the way everlasting.”

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

In a short essay called “On Birth,” Eugene Peterson compares physical birth and physical birth. The comparison, to me, is fascinating. “Our first birth thrusts us kicking and squalling into the light of day. Our second birth places us singing and believing in the light of God. By acts of love previous to us, we are launched into ways of seeing and being that become truly ours. We are launched into life.”

In both circumstances, new life is involved. And the thing that really caught my attention was that bit about “acts of love previous to us.” In the physical realm, it is the physical love of two people that results in a birth into new life. And in the spiritual realm, it is the love of God in Jesus Christ that results in a birth into new life.

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

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
(Colossians 3:12 NIV)

This verse has been on my radar since the mid-eighties, during a particularly spiritually volatile time in my life. I enjoy being brought back to it, from time to time. I don’t always enjoy the way it makes me feel, because I’m usually not living by it when it comes back around.

Going back to that bit about spiritual warfare up there . . . too many folks are all too willing to talk about putting on that spiritual armor, the “armor of God” that Paul talks about in Ephesians. They’re all about that “belt of truth” and “breastplate of righteousness.” They’ve got that “shield of faith,” ready to extinguish those “flaming arrows of the evil one.” They’re ready to spread the gospel, although I’m not so sure they’re into that bit about “peace.”

But you will not find those same people being all that excited about putting on these elements that Paul mentions in Colossians. I truly believe that, in their minds, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience = weakness. But they are wrong. What those elements do equal is meekness, which is an entirely different thing.

I believe I find myself with more “fuel” for prayer, today.

Peter gives us a similar list:

 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

And, of course, it can all be summed up in love.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.
(1 John 3:18-19 ESV)

Today’s prayer word is “focus.” I think it can go quite well with yesterday’s word, which was “ponder,” for to “ponder” something, or meditate on it, is to focus on said topic for a period of time.

I believe our culture has lost, or at least is in the process of losing, the ability to focus. The average, or standard, length of a TV commercial, these days, is fifteen seconds. I remember when they used to be a full minute. Then thirty seconds. Now fifteen. One source claims that some Internet ads are even down to only one second.

This is a reflection on the attention span of our culture. I confess that I have fallen into it, myself, as it is a struggle for me to maintain enough focus to sit and read a book for very long. We are always doing something else when we watch a TV program. We might be eating, we might be playing a game on a phone or tablet or laptop. Or we might just be scrolling through Facebook. I lose count of how many times I have to rewind a program on Prime Video or Netflix, saying, “Wait, what just happened?”

A Zen proverb is quoted at the beginning of today’s reading. It says, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” That’s all it says, but it can be applied to everything we do. There is a lot of stress put on “multitasking,” these days. Personally, I believe multitasking to be a myth. Oh, sure, I can do five things at a time. But am I doing any of them well? And, am I fully focused on any of them?

The answer, of course, is “no.” And, of course, these bad habits cannot help but effect our prayer lives. If I can’t focus enough to read for a length of time, or watch a TV program with my full concentration, I also am unable to pray for any serious amount of time.

A perfect example is what happens to me when I try to do this blog with Facebook and email tabs open in my browser. It is currently 10:47 AM. I started this blog well over two hours ago, and I’m not finished yet. Granted, I look at four different resources (not counting my Bible reading plan), but I still get much too easily distracted.

So there’s what I need to work on. Focus. One thing.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, there is much to pray over today. I give You praise for being my Father in heaven, and for the grace and mercy that You have lavished on me. I pray for Your name to be glorified in all the earth, for You to be lifted high and worshiped.

I thank You for the discipline of fasting, to help me to remember to pray more effectively. Help me to be more adept at both practices, as well as knowing my strengths that You have placed within me. Gratitude is one of those strengths, and showing this, constantly, helps keep me humble (not that I am all that humble, mind you).

Thank You for the miracle of birth, both physical and spiritual. I cannot stress one over the other, for if it were not for physical birth, there would be no spiritual birth. They are too closely tied together. May we all be better at recognizing the beauty in both events.

Please help me to keep myself clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I need all of those in equal measure, for none is more important than any other. I pray that it all be tied together in love within my heart and soul.

And in all of these things, please help me focus better. Keep me mindful of the need for “one thing.” One thing at a time.

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

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
(Isaiah 63:7 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.

Turn, Turn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Today is Wednesday, the ninth of March, 2022, in the first week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts today.

Today’s header photo is courtesy of Paul Militaru, from Romania. Please check out his awesome photography at the link provided.

Day 23,372

The A/C and heater people are supposed to arrive, this morning, between 9 and 10. The work should take most of the day. It is currently pretty cool outside, at 36 degrees, but should get up to around 60 by mid-afternoon.

An update on my computer situation. I finally got all of the files moved to Dropbox, but when I opened up the PC, I couldn’t tell which part was which. I’m also not 100% sure which part is making the noise, so I’m not going to try to swap out the hard drive myself. I have talked to the Computer Center manager at the library, so when I go to work Friday, I will take it with me, and he has agreed to look at it. I’ll take the new hard drive with me, as well.

There’s not much else to talk about, this morning. I’m starting a new devotional book, as I finished Symphony of Salvation, yesterday. The new one is also by Eugene Peterson, called On Living Well.

You might notice that I have not addressed world events that are going on. That is intentional. There are plenty of places you can read/hear about that. My purpose here is to present the Word of God in the best way I can, as positively as I can. My goal is encouragement, not discouragement. I know that I occasionally point out issues and shortcomings in the Church. But that is because I love the Church and I want to see her flourish.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place -
the Most High, who is my refuge -
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
(Psalm 91:9-10)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the Church, the community of saints, faithful and true 
2. for angels who minister to the saints
3. for Salt of the Sound and their beautiful, inspiring music
4. for the way God works in my devotionals
5. for those times when the things of earth go strangely dim

John Henry Newman speaks of Daniel’s two recorded fasts. The first one, I believe was for ten days, in which neither Daniel nor the three Hebrews we know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ate any meat or any of the king’s delicacies. The second was for three weeks.

The result of the first fast was that Daniel and his three friends were all stronger and healthier than the king’s people. On the second fast, Daniel was visited by an angel.

Newman keys in on the angel visit, and notes that, when Jesus was fasting in the desert for forty days, He was visited and helped by angels. “And so we too may well believe, and take comfort in the thought, that even now, Angels are especially sent to those who thus seek God.” Newman then takes note that Elijah, as well, was strengthened by an angel. We also have record of Cornelius, the Gentile, being visited by an angel when he was fasting.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
(Psalm 91:11-12)

The devil is well-aware of this promise, says Newman, “for he used it in that very hour of temptation. He knows full well what our power is, and what is his own weakness. So we have nothing to fear while we remain within the shadow of the throne of the Almighty.”

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
(Psalm 91:7)

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

“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands."
(Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
(Jeremiah 1:5 ESV)

“The Word was first. The Word was previous to everything else. Before we were conceived and took shape in our mothers’ wombs, before we were born, before anything happened, there was the Word.”

Before anything else existed, sun, moon, stars, trees, flowers, fish, governments, hospitals, schools, “there was the Word.”

I can’t paraphrase this stuff . . . it’s too good.

“If the Word were not first, everything else would have gone awry. If the Word were second – or third or fourth – we would have lost touch with the deep, divine rhythms of creation. If the Word were pushed out of the way and made to be a servant to the action and program, we would have lost connection with the vast interior springs of redemption that flow out of our Lord, the Word made flesh.

“When the Word is treated casually or carelessly, we wander away from the essential personal intimacies that God creates . . . by his Word.” (Emphasis mine)

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

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

It is the season of Lent. We are “supposed” to give up something. I did see a TikTok by a reverend that I respect and follow, suggesting that, maybe, instead of trying to force ourselves to give up something, perhaps we should try to add something positive, such as trying to pray for a person every day.

But this is a “season,” as indicated in Ecclesiastes 3. Almost everyone is familiar with the next ten verses or so of that chapter. Pete Seeger helped us all with that. The Byrds probably made it more famous than Pete, but he wrote the song.

I’ve read over this many, many times, in my life, but it is always “time” to look them over again. The many “times” or “seasons” that the writer of Ecclesiastes notes are as follows:

A time to for birth and a time for death
A time to plant and a time to reap
A time to kill and a time to heal
A time to destroy and a time to construct
A time to cry and a time to laugh
A time to lament and at time to cheer
A time to make love and a time to abstain
A time to embrace and a time to part
A time to search and a time to count your losses
A time to hold on and a time to let go (there's a whole bunch of us who need to learn that one)
A time to rip out and a time to mend
A time to shut up and a time to speak up
A time to love and a time to hate
A time to wage war and a time to make peace
(I used The Message for these)

And, as we work our way through the season of Lent, perhaps giving things up and perhaps adding things, there is one thing that we need to do. We need to “Turn” our eyes upon Jesus. It is always time for that.

Today’s prayer word is “ponder.” Isn’t that fitting, based on what I’ve just written?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
(Philippians 4:8 NIV)

“Ponder,” of course, means “to think about.” To think about carefully, to chew over, to meditate. Unfortunately, we tend to ponder over the wrong things, sometimes.

I have to interrupt myself and simply be awestruck over how my Father works these things out, how all of this works together, this morning. The writer of today’s reading, identified only as “Becky,” writes about trying to go to sleep at night, but as soon as her head hits the pillow, she starts pondering her day, her family members, and then the world and the future and . . . well, you get the picture.

In her case, “ponder” is more like “worry.” And I have most certainly been there. But the writer of Philippians would have us ponder different things. And I’m sure, if he were around today, he would agree with the song above the purple line, and say that all of the things in that verse are summed up by saying, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” Because, most assuredly, when you do that, the things of earth grow strangely dim.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, help us all to turn our eyes upon Jesus, during these times, so that the things of earth will grow strangely dim. Not that we stop caring, may it never be! But that we stop worrying, fretting, fearing. We are Your children . . . have mercy on us . . . teach us how to obey Your commands to “fear not.” Help us to live Isaiah 41:10 every day, ever minute, throughout all of those many “seasons” listed above. There is NEVER any reason for us to fear, Father!

NOTHING can separate me from Your love in Christ Jesus. None of the things mentioned in those two verse, nor anything else that we could possibly imagine. And, most beautifully, not even my sin can separate me, because of the powerful and efficacious work of my savior Jesus Christ, my Lord! Your Word made flesh, existing before there was anything else, and who will come again to make all things right.

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

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.