Like you, I am spending a lot of time at home. We are trying to do our part to stay healthy and keep our city and community safe. I admit that I’m not used to staying in so much. I like to be out and about, moving and on the go. “Lord, what is it You want me to do?” is a prayer I often pray. At the end of my days on this earth, I want the Lord to say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23). So, now that we find ourselves in a different way of living (for who knows how long) how can we make the most of our time? Here are a few of my thoughts and practices during this time of “social distancing.”
Take this time to
develop a deeper devotional life. Sadly, most Christians offer God the crumbs
of a leftover schedule. More time on our hands means we can read the Word of
God without being in a hurry. We can pray and not worry about having to be
somewhere. My practice is to spend about an hour each day just being with God
and then reading and soaking in His Word for another half hour. This may seem
too much for you, but discipline yourself to develop an appetite for the things
of God. This will enrich your soul!
Keep connected with
people. If you have family or friends who live with you, do your part to share
with them. Talk, laugh, play games, and just enjoy each other’s company. Also,
social distancing doesn’t mean we have to drift apart from our church family.
Use the phone, Facebook, and internet for meaningful connections. We are not
alone in this time of testing!
Serve others as
you are able. This starts at home by helping those right around you. You may
also have the opportunity to help someone outside of your residence by getting
groceries or meeting a need. Of course, while doing this, we practice wisdom
and follow the counsel of our city and government leaders.
Catch up on rest.
It’s not wrong to get a good night’s rest or to refresh ourselves with a nap.
In the Old Testament, God specifically required the Israelites to refrain from
work during various feasts and holy days.
Try not to worry.
No one can guarantee an easy and carefree future. However, we can receive what
the Lord gives to us, and hold on to His many promises. How many times does He tell His people, “Do
not be afraid”?
Keep busy with
projects. Have you considered it may be just the right time to organize “that
room” or clean the basement? This season could be the ideal time to accomplish
those tasks we procrastinate to do.
Finally, pray to the Lord each day, asking, “What do You want me to do today, Lord?” And then, go and do it!
So, life is hard for David. He knows God has called him to be king over Israel, but he finds himself constantly on the run from the homicidal maniac King Saul. The Bible reveals that not once, but twice, David is presented with an easy opportunity to kill Saul. The second time, David and his cousin Abishai are standing over Saul in the middle of the night as he sleeps in the camp of his army. Abishai sees this as David’s chance to say goodbye to all his problems, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice” (1 Samuel 26:8). But, David adamantly refuses, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” (v. 9). There’s a special character quality we need to see here. David, a man after God’s heart, refuses to take “shortcuts” to achieve God’s promises and goals for his life. Through the Holy Spirit in our lives, we must discern between legitimate opportunities to be seized and shortcuts to resist. The enemy of our soul is a mastermind at tempting us to take the short, easy path. “If you don’t have money…just steal some. Are you lonely…just sleep with someone. Is studying hard…just cheat. Are you depressed…just reach for the bottle or drugs.” Even Jesus was tempted to take a shortcut. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to enjoy the kingdom “right now.” Forget the hard path of obedience and the cross; enjoy the power of ruling and reigning without pain. Jesus rejected all shortcuts. He chose God’s kingdom God’s way. David also refused shortcuts. He knew that in God’s time he would ascend to the throne…without having to kill Saul to make it happen. What is the “shortcut” you are tempted to take? Choose the path of patience and perseverance, knowing that our God is faithful! Let Him fulfill your longings and desires. Walk the path of Jesus; experience the victory of Jesus!
So, you think you have it hard? Read the Book of Ruth. While I was reading this yesterday in my devotions, I tried to put myself in Naomi’s place. In this short book of four chapters, Naomi (the mother-in-law of Ruth) emerges as the main character, referred to 23 times, whereas Ruth is mentioned 17 times. In fact, this book could have been called the Book of Naomi. The story opens with Naomi following her husband, Elimelech, away from the land of Israel due to a famine. They travel to the nearby country of Moab. While there, Elimelech dies. Later, both of Naomi’s sons also die. She is left in great despair…a destitute widow in a foreign land. But God, in His faithfulness, sees Naomi and knows her situation. He has blessed her with a daughter-in-law, Ruth, who is totally committed to the Lord and to following Naomi. After about ten years, Naomi hears of God’s blessing of provision back in the land of Israel and decides to return, with Ruth right beside her. While back home in Bethlehem, the Lord shows Naomi amazing grace and the story ends with great joy. Ruth marries a relative of Naomi and bears a son (Obed) who carries on the family name, eventually becoming the great-grandfather of King David! This story helps me consider the realities of life. Naomi, a believer in the Lord, was not immune to life’s difficulties. For a long time she had to fight discouragement and the temptation to give up. Naomi could have stayed in Moab and died in Moab…end of story. But she allowed hope to rise in her heart and took a step of faith back to the Lord’s promised land. As we walk with Jesus, we realize that difficulties and problems are never the end of the story. The Lord is with us, and He shows us the steps of obedience we need to take toward ultimate victory. He doesn’t give up on us—no matter our circumstances, past mistakes, or wrong choices. By His grace, the Lord can take the dark colors of our disappointments and use them as the backdrop for a beautiful masterpiece. If you feel you are in a “Moab” time, take heart and humbly receive the grace God freely gives. He has a good ending in mind for you!
I have been listening to some debates on YouTube concerning the argument for the existence of God. One reason I listen is to better understand how many people around me have been taught to think about God. It is my hope that by knowing more about these things, I may be better able to offer witness to the life of Jesus. After listening to a debate last night, I came away with a few thoughts. First, we need to expect that people who think of themselves as “wise and educated” will generally dismiss the message of Jesus. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” As Christians, we must realize that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is “hard to swallow”—especially if you presuppose that life is just nature and miracles do not happen. Paul goes on to say, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). So, let’s expect opposition…and even ridicule. Also, keep in mind to follow a line of reason to its’ conclusion in human behavior. If you truly believe there is no God or afterlife, you will live according to your beliefs. No hope after death invites a depressing, purposeless life. And, with no belief in our accountability to God, what prevents us from becoming totally absorbed with our own desires? What prevents us from treating our neighbors with contempt, and simply living for what makes us feel good in the moment? Atheists often point out the “problems of religion” and refer to the crusades and the Inquisition as evidence of God being “man-made.” Though these events were evil for sure (masquerading as Christian), how much more evil has been poured on humanity by godless leaders and their regimes? On a personal level, would you rather live in a city where everyone was godless or in one where the people honestly sought to live for the Lord? One reason I follow Jesus is because of the many godly people who have gone before me. They showed me that God is real by their love, wisdom, and humility. I want to finish my “race” on earth as they did. So, it’s okay to learn more about how people without God think about life, but let’s understand that the arguments of atheism do not satisfy our deepest needs. May others who are searching for meaning discover that Jesus lives…because they see Him living in us!
During Bible days, the world was governed by kings. Imagine yourself a king. How would you rule? Would you be just and fair? The greatest temptation of a king is to use his power and authority for sinful, selfish pursuits. History is littered with records of wicked kings and queens. Before Israel entered the Promised Land, the Lord knew that the people would want a king in order to be like the other nations. So, in Deuteronomy, the Lord (through Moses) gave commands and directions for Israel’s future kings. “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). For kings, arrogance and superiority attitudes were constant temptations. God provided just the right antidote to such poisonous thinking…the Word of God! The Bible was given to us not just to reveal God but to help us to think right about ourselves. The truth from Scripture is that we are no better than others…even if we are kings! Reverence for God, combined with the discipline of immersing ourselves daily in His Word, enables us to think accurately about our relationships with others. In the Bible we discover that we are here to serve God and love others, and that we will give account to the Lord. On that day, He will ask, “What did you do with what I gave you?” I challenge you (as I challenge myself) to read the Word daily. This Word, fit for a king, helps us not to get too high or too low on ourselves. Stay focused on Jesus, and let Him define your self-worth and self-image. And remember that the Lord Jesus, the King of Kings, humbled himself and died for you that you might have life in Him.
Some people call it “down time.” Others think of it as “recharging.” Even Jesus needed this. During His ministry, Jesus immersed himself in helping and serving others. It wasn’t long before the word got out, and Jesus found himself surrounded by people…with their constant flow of needs. “Yet, the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16). Here we see Jesus living by the priorities of the Spirit. From His life and example, we learn that quality time with the Father is essential for quality time with people. During my years of ministry, I notice how easy it is to feel tired and depleted by life’s many demands. When I start to feel overwhelmed, it’s like an alarm clock goes off in my heart…calling me to spend time alone with God. To be honest, most of my prayer times with the Lord are not “shock and awe.” I don’t hear voices or receive emotional lightning bolts. However, I do receive strength and peace. Just putting myself in the presence of Jesus feeds my soul and encourages my heart. I think of Jesus’ conversation with his friends Mary and Martha. They had invited Jesus to their house for dinner. Instead of running around in a frenzy, Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus. Martha, on the other hand, “was distracted by all the preparations” (Luke 10:40). Finally, Martha boils over in frustration to Jesus and explodes, “Tell her to help me!” Does Jesus give in to her stress? He lovingly replies, “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42). We need to understand there is a time to work and a time to “unplug” and just be with Jesus. Without time at His feet, even good ministry seems like a burden and work becomes a source of irritation. So, what are you doing to create your “alone time” with Jesus? His power is more than enough to sustain us, but we need to create a pathway into His presence. He will meet you. His presence is all you need!
I remember it like yesterday. I was in eighth grade, sitting in my math class of about 30 students. In our school there were four math classes (A, B, C, and D), with A having the highest math students and D the lowest. (I was in class B.) One Monday, an administrator walked in and announced the names of two students being “demoted” to class C. My name was called. The two of us stood up and were ushered down the hall into the room with the C group. Ouch! That was quite humbling! Looking back, I know the reason for the demotion…I didn’t pay attention! A couple of my friends and I whispered a lot while the teacher had his back to us as he wrote on the chalkboard. On top of that, I allowed myself to daydream and missed several homework assignments. I think the way the school handled my “math demise” left a lot to be desired, but, ultimately, I had no one to blame but myself. This week I thought about Psalm 81. Here we find God’s offer of amazing grace and bountiful provision. He proclaims His willingness to give of himself and teach all that is needed for life and godliness. The Lord reminded His people of His steadfast love and how, in mercy, He had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt. He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen to me…. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies…” (Psalm 81:10-14a). The Lord promises hope and a future for His people, if only we would listen. From reading the Bible, I believe the worst sins are not what first come to mind. It seems the “gateway” sin leading to all the others is the everyday ignoring of God. We choose not to listen to Him and fill our schedules and minds with distractions. I am challenging myself to think about the Lord more and pay attention to Him every hour in my daily life. With all the cares of life, it takes a conscious effort on my part to pay attention to God. Even though I can’t do eighth grade math over again, I don’t have to fail in my walk with God. Hear again the heart cry of God as He pleads with us, “If my people would but listen to me!” May our desires and choices in life proceed from our rapt attention to our Lord and God! He will not steer us wrong.
Language can be funny, can’t it? We talk about the sunrise and the sunset when, in reality, it’s not the sun that rises or sets but the earth that rotates on its axis, exposing different regions to the sun. Actually, with respect to our solar system, the sun neither rises nor sets, but remains fixed in place. As Christians, we do something similar with language. You’ve probably heard a testimony from someone who was in a crisis situation when “God showed up.” But the truth of the matter is that God didn’t just somehow show up. We know that God is infinite; He is present everywhere at all times. We may say that God showed up, but, actually, He was there all along, and we finally turned our attention to Him. It might seem odd that people who believe in God would turn their attention away from God when they’re in trouble. Most of the time, it’s because we’re trying to figure out how to solve our problems on our own. In our culture, we’ve gotten used to turning to a bank or a doctor or a life-coach when we need help and turning to God for help only when a situation degenerates into a crisis. When we finally look to Him, we proudly announce that God showed up just when we were at our lowest! To be clear, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the resources that are available to us when we need help. My point is simply that we will save ourselves a lot of worry and grief if we turn to God before things get out of hand. When I was young, I gave my father a plaque for Father’s Day that read, “When all else fails, try a prayer.” He accepted it graciously but was quick to point out that the best way to approach life is to seek God before all else fails. Where do you turn when you need help? Remember the promise in Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble.” He’s always right here with us!
You know what it feels like. You need help from someone, and he agrees to be there for you. He shows up late, acts tired and bored, and slips away as soon as possible. Even though his body showed up, his heart wasn’t there. Sometimes I wonder how God feels about our service to Him. Do we bring Him joy or is He grieved by our half-heartedness? This morning while reading Exodus, this verse jumped out at me, “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God” (Exodus 23:19). Most Israelites of that day understood the importance of cultivating the soil in order to grow crops. They were dependent on God’s blessing (rain, sunshine, good soil) combined with their hard work. As an act of worship, the people enjoyed the privilege of giving back to God what He had given them. The one stipulation…God wanted the best! Imagine an Israelite man going to the temple and giving the priest an “offering” from his field of rotten fruit and mildewed crops. Would this be accepted? In Genesis 4 we read of Cain who, “brought some of the fruits of the soil as offering to the Lord” (v. 3). While God “looked with favor” on Cain’s brother (Abel), the Bible says, “on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (v. 5). Many have speculated that God favored Abel’s offering because it involved animals. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus for our sins. However, the Bible also speaks about offerings of fruit from the ground as something God accepts as well. I believe Cain’s offering was unacceptable because of Cain’s heart. Could it be that Cain gave God the leftovers—the rotten fruit? What does this have to do with me, you may ask? The Lord is the One who gives us everything we have. He also gives us the opportunity to “give back” to Him from His blessings. Do we give God the best of what we have or just the leftovers? For example, we are given the amazing opportunity to pray. Do we pray when our hearts and minds are fresh or do we repeatedly give God a few hurried and tired moments before we collapse at the end of our day? When we are asked to serve by helping someone or assisting in ministry, do we show up late and “sleepwalk” our way through…leaving as soon as we can? When we have opportunity to sing and praise God in worship, do we daydream about other things or consistently show up late? Let’s give God our best! He is worthy of our greatest offerings of time, talent, and treasure. He wants our hearts in our sacrifice and service! May He look with favor on our sacrifice! And, always remember that Jesus was God’s best, given for us!
We all wear glasses. These are the “lens” through which we see life. From this vision (or lack of) we then explain the circumstances which swirl around us. In times of great trials, it’s easy to allow our lens to become the darkest of sunglasses. We tell ourselves things like, “God has something against me. God doesn’t see what I am going through. God doesn’t care.” So, how we see life is how we explain it to ourselves and others. Consider Joseph. As a 17-year-old he was sold as a slave…by his own brothers! He was uprooted from his family and homeland, forced into slavery and imprisonment for 13 years…as a forgotten nobody. But, God was with Joseph! When the time was right, God exalted him to second in command to Pharaoh! As I read this amazing story, I wonder how Joseph looked through his “glasses” at his 13 years as a slave. Was he bitter? Did he try to block this out and never think about it. Did he comfort himself with visions of “getting even”? The answer came when his brothers arrived in Egypt to buy food. After some episodes of interesting drama, Joseph revealed himself to his shocked brothers—the very ones who sold him into slavery. If this story was produced by Hollywood, the ending would show Joseph killing most of his brothers and sending the others into the deepest dungeon to rot in slow deaths. Is this what happened? To be sure, his brothers were scared to death of Joseph’s revenge. But, to their amazement, Joseph said to them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 8). Wow! Joseph chose to be blind to revenge. He refused to put on the dark shades. Instead he saw his life and everything that happened to him through the lens of faith in God. What does this say to us? Instead of complaining and looking at life in the worst possible way, can we ask God for grace to see through faith? Can we believe that the future will reveal that God is working behind the scenes even in the drama and “unfair” crises of life…in order to bring about ultimate good? The same Spirit in Joseph can be in us. May the Lord grant us eyes to see beyond the pain of the moment and to believe He is working all things together for good!