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“What you are is God’s gift to you; what you make of yourself is your gift to God” (Anonymous). Many years ago Clarence Darrow wrote, “If I were a young man graduating from college this year, I would chuck it all and commit suicide. Life isn’t worth living today.” How tragic. A young man was complaining that God had surely made a terrible world, and he wondered why. His friend said, “That is the reason God put you into this world–to make it a better place in which to live. Now stop complaining and start doing something about it.”
“Why do you stand looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11). We mourn that which passes from our lives. But! “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven” (v.11b). Sometimes the loss we so grieve over is a blessing that will strengthen us. We gaze with broken heart and mind at a fading treasure, and yet in the losing is the very grace that we may and can gain. “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you…” (John 16:7). “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
“I will give you a new heart…” (Ezekiel 36:26a). Ah, Lord God, a new heart! I beg for a heart that understands my brother’s and sister’s real needs, not just desires. I beg for a renewed heart that can mesh with my dear friend’s, to comprehend the hurts and tangles in both our lives. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). O my Lord, baptize me in the Living Water that I may be cleansed of all that separates me from You and from Your creation. Wash me, O Father, and I shall be whiter than snow….
“…We tried to stop him, because he is not one of us” (Luke 9:49b). It is arrogance to assume that we know what is best for all concerned; it is to reach the top rung of pride. “So a young man ran and told Moses…`Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then Joshua…answered and said, `Moses, my Lord, restrain them.’ But Moses said to him, `Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!'” (Numbers 11:27-29 NAS). Jesus says, “Do not stop him…for whoever is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50). Only God knows motives!
“Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25 NAS). Thomas loved Jesus fervently. Only a few weeks before, he wanted to go with Him to His death (John 11:16). But how could he, a practical, common-sense type of person, accept that this Man he so loved, and who had died and was buried, is now resurrected? Impossible! Unless? We find it so difficult to believe, except on our conditions. But Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
“…I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf” (Exodus 32:24). How preposterous! And yet we can give some strange excuses ourselves. “You know the people…that they are prone to evil” (v.22). Aaron said nothing about the mold he made or the graving tool he used. We all sin, and we blame nature or them or the devil. “They” make us do it. Society makes us murderers and adulterers because it makes such stringent laws, so we reason. Moses literally broke the commandments in indignation at the sin he witnessed. We break God’s commandments in indignation that our so-called freedom is curtailed and then we fault others when life goes askew.
“Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening” (Psalm 104:23). “A spectator watched three men at work. `What are you doing?’ he asked the first man. ‘Working for ten shillings a day.’ He asked the second man the same question. `Cutting stone.’ When he asked the third man, the answer was: `Building a cathedral'” (Anonymous). Work can be ordinary or extraordinary. If we have a job which matches our talents and we get paid a good salary, too, then how fortunate we are. But George MacDonald cautions us: “Mind, it is our best work that He wants, not the dregs of our exhaustion. I think He must prefer quality to quantity.”
“The crucible [is] for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3). We don’t know what is in our heart until life tests us. It is so easy to profess our religion and patience and love, until we must use it. As God permits disclosure of our weaknesses, He is refining us and strengthening us. He is removing the chaff to make us more fruitful. “Many will be purged, purified and refined; but the wicked will act wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand” (Daniel 12:10 NAS).
“I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me…I said, `Here am I, here am I” (Isaiah 65:1). “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). He writes on our seeking hearts, “I am Love.” We can lose Him but He will never lose us. Someone wrote, “[Love] is righteousness and benevolence acting in harmony.” God is just and good, and He wants us to be happy. He is the only one who knows what is best for us. This is an energy verse for the Christian; the motivating factor for the person who professes His name: “Jesus first loved me!”
“What are you willing to give me…?” (Matthew 26:15a). Imagine, Judas is asking the chief priests how much they are willing to give him–to betray his Lord. Judas, who once loved and believed in Jesus, is now ready to commit the meanest crime on earth, all for thirty pieces of silver. The weeds in Judas’ garden were greed, lack of insight and ingratitude of the highest order. Even being with Jesus who daily sacrificed Himself for others did not convince Judas of his own self-serving ways. Yet who are we to judge Judas, for we serve self daily. How many times a day do we ask, “What are you willing to give me…what do I get?”
One of my favorite Bible verses is about nobility: “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands” (Isaiah 32:8 NIV). Nobility is about integrity, honesty and dignity. It has nothing to do with the era in which we live. Virtue is not confined to time and space. It is timeless and therefore here and now, and more necessary than ever. But to make noble plans we begin with noble thoughts, thoughts we wake up with and go to sleep with; this dictates how we will act in between.
The lady of the house took her friends on the grand tour of her new residence. She was so proud of her treasures. She even told her friends she didn’t want Jesus to come back any time soon, because she wanted to enjoy all this luxury. Hezekiah told Isaiah, “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them” (Isaiah 39:4). This was after God gave Hezekiah fifteen more years of life, too. Both these people ran into a crisis of prosperity. Jesus tells us, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service…” (1 Timothy 1:12 NAS). We are His anointed and appointed to make His rounds our rounds; His work our work. Paul here is thanking God that he has been called to a life of responsibility and hardship. There aren’t too many of us willing to do that. The Christian life is a challenge to mind and body. It is development, construction, production, creativity, and originality. Imagine, we are partners with God! “…I came that [you] might have life…abundantly” (John 10:10).
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault” (James 1:5). Prayer does not change the mind of God but it does open the way to our heart so we will understand what God has in mind for us. This, too, is wisdom. What is so striking about this verse is that God does not reproach us for what we ask; He gives liberally if we ask for what is good for all concerned. “Give me wisdom and knowledge…`Because you…did not ask for riches, wealth or honor…nor have you even asked for long life…wisdom and knowledge have been granted to you'” (2 Chronicles 1:10-12 NAS).
“…I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14). Sometimes we have to be brought to the place of desolation and loneliness before God can speak to us and make us understand what we have done to ourselves and what He would like to do for us. God does not drive us but He pleads with us to come out from the world and to come into the wilderness, away from old associations and habits, to a new life. It is there in the seeming barrenness of the wilderness that He will give us vineyards and hope and a new song (v.15). Divine leading is never contrary to our highest good; otherwise, God would be evil.
Jonah is an interesting character and represents us all at some phase in our lives. Instead of going to Nineveh, he sailed the other way. As one writer put it: “He arose like a pigeon let loose in a strange place, performed the circle of indecision, then darted off in the wrong direction.” Perhaps we have done the same thing: heard God’s clear call and darted in the other direction. We fear that the call demands everything and we can’t give that much. It is easier to resign than to face the unknown. We jump overboard into something worse to escape what God wants us to do.
“But the centurion…commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves…into the sea, and get to land: and the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship” (Acts 27:43,44 KJV). There are several worthwhile lessons here: 1) our plans and purposes may break up instantly, like this ship; 2) sudden changes may be for our good; 3) our helplessness calls forth others’ sympathy and aid; 4) in disaster earthly possessions lose their value; 5) the means of salvation can hinge on little things: broken pieces and people we do not value; and 6) we can break on sunken rocks of unbelief and neglect.
“Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). The crafty foe engages an innocent Eve in conversation and controversy and he knows he has her. Humans don’t like restraints, especially moral ones. The serpent deftly touched on the one tree Adam and Eve were told was off limits. They didn’t even realize what was happening. And he subtlety puts into our minds what we don’t have, and so keeps on fostering discontent and distrust. Helen Keller, deaf and blind, said, “So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.” What a wonderful thought when we are discontent with our lot in life!
Albert E. Bailey told the story of two bills: The first bill was from Harry to his mother for jobs he did around the house, “Total that Mother owes Harry, $.12.” Mother promptly paid the bill. Harry found a bill from Mother under his pillow the next morning: “For food for Harry, 10 years…$0.00; For clothing and home, 10 years…$0.00; For toys and skates and bicycle…$0.00; For taking care of Harry during pneumonia…$0.00. Total that Harry owes Mother…$0.00.” What joy and gratitude we feel when we realize Jesus has paid our bill to God, and it is marked, “$0.00!” We owe nothing but our lives, our praise and our thankfulness.
It is useless to brag about our ancestry. One thing the Christian knows, we don’t need to worry about monkey swingers. Other than that, we aren’t sure what a perusal through our lineage might reveal, and we may not want to know. Someone asked an old rabbi why God made only two people, Adam and Eve. He replied, “So that nobody can say, `I come from better stock than you do.'” Will Rogers, proud of his Indian heritage, is reported to have told a member of a prominent New England family who bragged about her ancestors coming over on the Mayflower, “My ancestors were here to meet them.” Our Father is our Ancestor.
“When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19); “But remember the Lord your God, for it He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). Religion allows both the acquirement and enjoyment of wealth. What it prohibits is the selfishness which seems to grow like a barnacle if we don’t acknowledge the source of our wealth, whether material or spiritual.
Sometimes we can’t win. Jesus told the multitudes: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say,`He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and `sinners!'” (Matthew 11:18,19). Critics are unreasonable and it is impossible to please them. If a person is reserved and a loner by nature, “they say” he is conceited, narrow and unsociable; if a person is accessible and talkative, “they say” he is worldly and intrusive. We might as well learn to overcome the “They Sayers.” Even Jesus had to deal with them.
“The infinite Jehovah is much more pleased with the gentle melting of a broken heart, and the pious breathings of humble love, than all the noise and clamor in the world” (From the journal of Joseph Pilmoor). “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools” (Ecclesiastes 9:17); “But I have stilled and quieted my soul” (Psalm 131:2a); “In quietness and trust is [our] strength” (Isaiah 30:15b). God wants an untroubled heart in His kingdom. He is the Author of peace, not the noise and disorientation we have today.
“The lessons I have culled from the crucible of real life, whatever I know about the undoing of nations and the triumph of man, teach me that as long as hope pulsates within us like blood, redemption is possible, like survival itself, for a society, for a people, for an individual, even for a child without parents, without means, without education, without health, even in conditions that stagger the mind” (Of Blood and Hope, Samuel Pisar). Pisar somehow came through the Holocaust and wrote one of the more uplifting and educational books about that terrible age in history. We only think we have suffered; the survivors of the concentration camps did, and still hoped.
“…Let them first learn to practice piety…and to make some return to their parents…” (1 Timothy 5:4 NAS). It doesn’t have to be a monetary return. Parents long for kind words and actions. The widowed mother would so appreciate for her son to mow the lawn; parents or grandparents would like a night out with the children; a phone call on a special day would make a lonely heart so happy; a note saying “I love you” would thrill a lonely heart. These are not crippling obligations but privileges of love while one’s parents and grandparents still live. Love begins at home and it should return for a visit now and then.
Howard D. Bare shares this insight: “Four men climbed a mountain to see the view. The first wore new and expensive shoes which did not fit, and he complained constantly of his feet. The second had a greedy eye and kept wishing for this house or that farm. The third saw clouds and worried for fear it might rain. But the fourth really saw the marvelous view. His mountaintop experience was looking away from the valley out of which he had just climbed to higher things.” God loves beauty, for He created it. Surely He wants us to cherish and appreciate His gifts. Let us pray to recognize them.
Emerson said, “The hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” Perseverance is an essential words in the Christian’s vocabulary. Jesus told His disciples, “…He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). “Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:8,9 NAS). God’s grace is sufficient to keep us going through what we must endure, and it is sufficient to the end.
“To cease to rebel, to stop fighting back, to be content with half a loaf when you cannot have a whole one–these are hard lessons, but all of us must learn them. I have found that the great word is Acquiescence” (Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau). A motto which used to hang in homes read: “The City of Contentment is in the State of Mind.” In Christianity we have the vehicle to drive away discontent, for it takes away the natural causes of discontent: pride, selfishness and greed. If we believe God has the whole world in His hands, and each life as well, then we can’t be miserable. Misery, too, is in the State of Mind.
Procrastination is a killer of time and motivation. It borrows on tomorrow’s time. Today is yesterday’s tomorrow. God has many promises, but tomorrow isn’t one of them. We can’t waste a minute of unredeemable time in getting on with our purpose in life while we have time and health to do it. Felix told Paul, “Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you” (Acts 24:25 NAS). There is no record of Felix ever finding the time to summon Paul. Cervantes said, “By the streets of `By and By’ one arrives at the house of `Never.'” By and by, we will arrive at never, too, if we don’t get on with what we need to do–today.
Sometimes other people’s strength becomes our own. In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, a young girl observes Carton’s composure and says to him, “If I may ride with you, will you let me hold your hand? I am not afraid, but I am little and weak, and it will give me more courage.” When the cart reaches the place of execution, she looks at him and says, “I think you were sent to me by Heaven.” We all know that special person who has faced his or her crisis with uncommon fortitude, and we draw on that for nerve and energy for our own struggles in life.
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