“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
A Glimmer of Hope in the Shadows of Despair
Today for my devotions I was reading in the book of Lamentations. This is a powerful book, written by the prophet Jeremiah, over the destruction of Jerusalem. The book as a whole is really a downer. It is verse after verse of hopelessness, helplessness, despair and anguish. The prophet is lamenting what has become of this amazing city, the kingdom, and the people.
But while most of the verses in this book are sad and discouraging, in reality the book contains a message of hope. Actually, because most of the book is so bleak, the verses that are not become like brilliant little lighthouses of hope. Nestled in the middle of the book, among all the despair, we find this phrase, “Yet, I still dare to hope when I remember this:” (Lamentations 3:21, NLT)
What a powerful statement. Jeremiah gives us a glimmer of hope in the shadows of despair. This is a profound statement for those who are living in dark places right now. In the midst of such darkness, when a glimmer of light shows up, like this verse, it acts as a beacon of hope, beckoning all who are in despair to come and bask in the light.
Jeremiah is calling out to all who are hopeless, discouraged, anxious, and lost. He says, I have found hope! Even when the world is falling down around me, I still have hope. Actually, it is because Jeremiah says these words while in the midst of such lamenting that the words take on such power and shine so brightly. Jeremiah has hope, and then he tells us why…
“The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
What powerful, hopeful, encouraging words! Jeremiah reminds us that even in the darkest of times, still we can hope in God. I want to encourage you with those words today. If you want to find out more about this hope, then please feel free to gives us a call, or send an email, or even come on out and visit us some Sunday. We would love to talk more about this hope!
We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore!
I don’t like November 1. Why? Because it reminds me of the consumer spin that we have put on Christmas. You know what I am talking about. The day after that “trick or treating” holiday, while the kids are still nursing tummy aches from eating too much candy, all the stores begin to tear down the pumpkins, costumes and candy from their seasonal shelves and begin to put up their Christmas decorations.
I don’t like this day, but it isn’t because I miss the pumpkins and other treats that that have been up on the shelves for the past month. The reason I don’t like this day is because once the Christmas decorations go up, we begin a fast paced slide toward Christmas that is anything but the peaceful journey it is meant to be.
Between November 1 and the end of the year we have two holidays that are meant to turn our eyes toward our Heavenly Father with thanks and praise. But instead of peacefully and joyfully celebrating this time of year, we have filled it with a flurry of gift-buying, party-going, card-sending, house-decorating, consumer-driven madness, that leaves Thanksgiving and the real meaning of Christmas wallowing in the carnage.
In just a little while we will be standing in the early stages of 2011 and looking back with dazed confusion at the blur that was supposed to be the holiday season. It happens every year. It seems like we go to bed on October 31 and wake up on January 2 and an entire two months have passed and we hardly had time to enjoy any of it.
I guess that is why I don’t like November 1. The stores all rush ahead to try and be the first to get out their Christmas stuff and begin this feeding frenzy that we call the holiday season. They push it by so fast that all we can do is reach out, grab hold and hang on for dear life.
So my challenge for all of us this year is to get off the carousel. This year, let’s stand up and say, in the immortal words of Twisted Sister, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!” I’m not generally a big fan of quoting Twisted Sister, but this phrase fit so well that I just had to use it. Anyway, we need to be intentional about getting off this crazy carousel of Christmas confusion. We need to decide that we aren’t going to get taken for a ride anymore by what the stores and the media and the world in general have done with this time of year.
I encourage you to take your time this holiday season. Walk a little slower. Don’t rush. Enjoy this time. And make it a point to reflect on what it’s all about. Take time to give thanks between now and Thanksgiving. Count your blessings. Remember what God has done for you. And then turn your sights on the birth of the Savior. Take time to consider this Jesus who came to earth as a little baby to become the sacrifice for all our sins.
This is a special time of the year. Let’s not miss it just because we are too busy. Take your time and peacefully enjoy this Christmas season.
Open Wide Your Mouth
Today in my devotions I came across Psalm 81:10, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” That is a beautiful and powerful verse. When I think of it, I get the picture of a nest of baby birds with their mouths wide open toward the sky waiting for their mother to feed them. They have their mouths so wide open that you can’t even see their face. They are hungry and they know that food is coming. So they are straining with every ounce of muscle they have to be ready to receive that food.
Today I had a conversation with a woman whose husband has been out of work for several months and they are not able to pay for this month’s rent. She has been trusting God and knowing that He has a plan, but she is tired. She is ready for this to be over. She is ready for God to come swooping in and give them what they need. She is waiting and wondering where God is in the midst of this.
And I don’t blame her. I understand how she feels. How do those two pictures go together? God says “open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” So what’s the deal? Is her mouth not wide open enough? Where is the filling?
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever wondered where God is in the midst of what you are going through? Have you ever wondered what God is doing and when He is going to come along and provide what you are hungry for and in need of? Those are tough times, are they not? So how do we wait for feeding time? How do we hang on for God?
Let’s consider this verse from Psalm 81 a little closer. Notice that first we see a reminder of who God is. That God is faithful and more than capable of providing for our every need. We have seen God at work over and over again and we can know that He is able to care for our needs today just like He did for the Israelites so many years ago.
So the first place we need to start is with trust. We need to trust God. He knows our needs and actually knows even better than we do what is best for us. And He is fully capable of meeting those needs. He has proved Himself faithful time and again and we can trust in Him. But I believe the second part of that verse carries this concept to a whole new level. Opening wide our mouths is an action for us to take. It is us saying that we know that God is powerful, and faithful, and that He will provide, and us actively putting ourselves in the position for God to pour out whatever we need from Him.
Now along with that goes an understanding that we are vulnerable in that position. Think of the birds for a moment. They opened their mouths so wide that they couldn’t possibly see what was coming. They trusted their mother to not only feed them, but to give them what would be good for them. The mother bird could put anything into their mouths at that moment and they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Opening our mouths wide in expectation puts us in a position of vulnerability before the Lord. And I believe that vulnerability is key.
When we are in that position we are saying to God, fill me Lord, I trust in you to give me whatever you choose to give me. When we get to that position we are abandoning our plans and putting ourselves completely in His hands, trusting that whatever He gives us will be exactly what we need.
Many times we want God to feed us or help us, but only as long as His plan comes into line with what we want for ourselves. We want Him to feed us, but we want to choose the menu. But God wants us in this position we see in Psalm 81:10, with our mouths so far wide open that we are completely trusting Him to give us what we need.
I know some of you out there are hurting and hungry. I want to invite you to open wide your mouths to the Lord. Remember His faithfulness and power, and trust Him to give you exactly what you need. Open wide your mouth to the Lord and let Him fill it.
The Happy Ending
I like to read. I read non-fiction books to help with my ministry, leadership, spiritual development, and other things and then in my spare time I also enjoy reading fiction. Lately I have been enjoying some of Clive Cussler’s novels.
Today as I was reading, I was getting drawn into the suspense and intrigue of the story and I was wondering how it was all going to work out. There were a lot of twists and turns and a few times the story began heading in a direction that seemed to lead to an outcome I would not be pleased with. But then I realized that regardless of what new development came up in the story, everything was eventually going to work out in the end.
In Cussler’s novels the good guys always win, the storyline always gets resolved, everything eventually works out for the best. Actually, most fiction is like that. Not all, but the majority of fiction novels eventually wind up with things working out in the end. That is one of the nice things about reading. It means that you can enjoy reading the book, you can experience the adventure and the intrigue and yet all the while you can know that everything will work out in the end.
As I was thinking about that, I realized that in reality that is true with our life in Christ as well. Life is filled with ups and downs. Things don’t always go our way. We have our share of hardships and difficulties along with our joys and triumphs. Life is an adventure, it is filled with intriguing possibilities. We may not enjoy everything that happens along the way, but ultimately, if we are in Christ, we can be assured that everything will work out in the end.
We already know how things are going to turn out. One day the Lord will return to usher in His Kingdom. Life as we know it will come to an end, but there will be a new Heaven and a new earth and we will spend eternity with our Lord. We can be assured of that good ending if we are in Christ.
That amazing fact allows us to look at life here on earth in a different way. We can approach this life with peace, knowing that no matter what happens, God’s victory is secure. Everything will come together at the end of the story. So I encourage you with those words.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, everywhere you look it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. If you drive through neighborhoods you see lights and decorations on more and more homes and lawns. The television commercials and other advertisments are reminding you of all the gifts you need to buy from websites like Flyp. There are radio stations playing nothing but Christmas music. I am cutrently sitting in Dunn Bros. sipping my Earl Grey tea from a cup that reminds me to “share the joy.” You can venture to downtown Minneapolis and enjoy the Holidazzle Christmas parade or the animated holiday display at Macy’s. And don’t even get me started on the Mall of America.
So along those lines, this weekend I will begin a Christmas sermon series at The River Church. I will be preaching on the Christmas story from Luke 2. But during this series we will not be focusing on Santa Claus, or snowflakes, wrapping paper or wreaths. We will be focusing on the real meaning behind this season.
I want to invite you to come and check us out during this holiday season. Or if you have visited us in the past, but it has been awhile, you might want to come back and check us out again. There are some changes going on and we would love to see you again.
Enjoy this Christmas season. Go out and check out the lights. Go downtown and see the parade and the display. Enjoy your time shopping at the Mall, but also make sure to get to church and spend some time focusing on what this holiday is really all about.
Remember, Rejoice, Reflect
So the holidays are here. What are you looking forward to? The turkey? The shopping? The family time? The parties? The holidays are full of all kinds of things and mean different things to each of us. One of the greetings that we use with one another during this time of year is “happy holidays.” That’s great. I hope you are happy, but even more so, my hope for all of us is that this holiday time would be a time to remember, rejoice and reflect. What a wonderful way to wrap up one year and begin the next one.
We start with Thanksgiving which is a time to remember. It is a time to look back and consider all the ways that God has blessed us and provided for us. It is a time to consider all of those things that we take for granted everyday. It is a time to pause in the midst of our busy lives and give thanks.
Then we move on to Christmas. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time to rejoice. It is a time that can easily be consumed by all the hustle and bustle of buying presents, going to parties, and everything else that comes during the commercialized portion of the holidays. But instead of focusing on all of that, it is a time for us to rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas. It is a time for us to rejoice over the baby who was born as the perfect gift to a lost and dying world, so that our Heavenly Father, who loves us so much, could bring us back to a right relationship with Him. Christmas is a time to rejoice over what has been done for us and the hope that we have in Christ.
Then we move on to New Years. The time between Christmas and New Years is a time to reflect. A time to look back over the year that was and look forward to the year to come. It is a time to reflect over God’s faithfulness to us and to renew our hope in Him for the new year. God is good and He knows the plans that He has for us. Entering into the turn over from one year to the next is a perfect time to reflect.
Remember, rejoice, and reflect. What a great way to celebrate the holiday season. Instead of wishing you a happy holidays, I wish for you a time to remember, rejoice and reflect!