In order to live well in the present, we must learn how to deal with the past. While visiting our daughter and son-in-law (Nicole and Tirus) a few weeks ago, Terry and I heard a wonderful sermon about “Stones of Remembrance” from Joshua 4. I credit Pastor Joel for key thoughts for this article. In Joshua 4 we find the children of Israel crossing the Jordan River after wandering 40 long years in the wilderness. This crossing was no ordinary fording of a river! God miraculously dried the Jordan, allowing the people to pass over to the Promised Land, even during the rainy season when the river was at its peak. During the crossing, God instructed Joshua to have some men gather 12 stones from the middle of the river and bring them to shore (see Joshua 4:3). These stones were to serve as “a sign among you” (v. 4) and “a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (v. 7b). The wonders of God must not be forgotten…especially for the next generation! God proclaimed, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (vv. 6-7a). So, what does God want us to remember? What has He done in the past year (and years) that we must call to mind and share with others? He is the faithful God who saves us and keeps us! He proves His love and kindness by providing for us and answering our prayers. May we not forget Him by whining and complaining when we experience trials. Do something tangible to remember the Lord. It may not be stones that you set up, but at least write down answers to prayer and blessings that have come your way in 2018. In the sermon next week, during our vision-casting Sunday, I will be sharing some of these “stones of remembrance” so we can remember and rejoice in the Lord and His grace toward us.
I think about “the fear of God” a lot. People have told me, “Fearing God is not healthy or good for us.” That’s not what the Bible says. Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s an “unhealthy fear,” where we try to run from God (think Adam and Eve after sinning). But, the good kind of “the fear of God” is connected with all kinds of blessings. Let’s consider Abraham. His son of promise, Isaac, was the joy of his life. Born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, Isaac (whose name means laughter), brought praise and laughter to all who knew them. Suddenly, in the very next chapter after the rejoicing over Isaac’s birth, we see Abraham immersed in the greatest test of his life. It came down to this: would Abraham fear the Lord and obey Him—even if it meant giving up his son? What meant the most to him in this earthly life? The intensity of the drama continues to the very moment of Abraham raising his hand to bring the knife down on his son Isaac. Suddenly, the angel of the Lord speaks out, “Do not lay a hand on the boy…do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12). The “angel of the Lord” is a designation for the Lord himself. Why would the Lord say, “Now I know”? Is this because the Lord did not know of Abraham’s devotion and needed to find out by this test? Not at all. The Lord does not test us for His information but for our revelation. His tests reveal the grace of God working in us and through us. Abraham realized through this experience that God was truly first in his heart and that he feared God more than anything else. So, how do we know if we truly fear God? Can we honestly say that nothing is more important to us than the Lord? When put to the test, will we be willing to release what is near and dear to us? Or, will we say no to God and perhaps turn from Him? His grace is available to us and will carry us through every test. We can come out on the other side of the test and say, “Yes, I fear the Lord because He is first in my life”…and be blessed!
I’m glad God believes in new beginnings. I’m reading in the Book of Genesis about how God created the earth and mankind. It doesn’t take too long before we discover people corrupting themselves and the earth. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6). God had seen enough. The floods came and destroyed what God created. However, that wasn’t the end of the story. “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark…” (Genesis 8:1). All life was not extinguished. God’s grace gave us a new beginning through Noah and his family. They were protected from the flood and stayed on the ark for many months. Finally, it was time to leave the ark. “By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth” (Genesis 8:13). There’s something in this verse I had not noticed before. God dried the earth for Noah and his family at the beginning of the new year! It’s as if God is saying, “I’m giving you another chance by giving you a brand new year.” While reading about Noah this morning, the Lord put the words of Jesus on my heart: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37). Yes, we are living in times that resemble the world before the flood. Wickedness is growing. Violence is increasing. Most people live as if there is no God. Be sure that God is the righteous Judge and all evil will be accounted for. His plan, however, is not to simply destroy the earth through judgment, but to provide a new beginning for His people! Be among the faithful—like Noah, who found favor in the sight of God (Genesis 6:8). May the beginning of this new year remind us of Noah. We are given a new opportunity in this new year to follow Jesus, love people, and share hope!
“What I feared has
come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25). Job, a
magnificent man of faith, allowed one particular fear pertaining to his
children to consume his thought process. Job was extremely devoted to the Lord,
and his faith (as we would later learn while hearing his story) was steadfast
and solid. However, even with his unwavering faith in God, Job allowed a fear
(the behavior of his children when not in his presence) to fester in his mind
to the point where he thought of the consequence that would be bestowed upon
him by God had these fears been actuality. When calamity struck in his life,
Job conceded that his initial unnecessary fear was what brought tragic turmoil
in his life. The God of the universe never promises that our lives will be
without obstacles and extreme circumstances. The Bible actually states that on
Christ’s behalf we are to “not only
believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him” (Philippians 1:29). All must
understand that there is a distinct difference between suffering and fear.
These two often seem to be confused. Major aspects of suffering for Christ have
to do with sacrifice and denial of our inherited sinful nature as well as
dealing with the rest of the world’s reaction to us as we express our Christian
faith. Fear is derived from either internal or external influences. Fear is the
exact opposite of peace, and peace of mind and spirit is one of the qualities
that Jesus promises for all of His followers. Upon seeing their Savior for the
first time after His resurrection, the disciples were experiencing a mixture of
emotions—awe, confusion and earthly fear. Jesus responded to them (as the angel
said to the women at the tomb), “Do not
be afraid” (Matthew 28:10). Difficulties in life happen. The stance of our mind and spirit before,
during, and after the difficulties should be what separates us as Christians
from the rest of society. Our responsibility is to entice the rest of the world
by how we respond to every situation while rebuking fear. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer
and petitions, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all
understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”
“When the time had fully come, God sent His Son…” (Galatians 4:4).
God kept His promise! The prophets clearly predicted the coming of the Messiah, the One who would do amazing works and save His people from their sins. But much time had passed after the last prophet, Malachi, and many became restless and discouraged. The promise seemed like a distant memory. Will God remember? Will He act? But we must remind ourselves, God is not a man that He should lie or “conveniently” forget His promises. What God says, He will do. It is wise for us to exercise patience and wait for God. He promised to come back. We know it has been a long time since His promise to return. But He is the same God who sent Jesus the first time, and He spoke through the angel, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back…” (Acts 1:11). We live in a world where people lie and easily back out of their promises. Not God! He has great plans for all who put their faith in Him. You can trust Him to be the ultimate promise keeper! He came and He’s coming back. Count on it!
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it….” So wrote the songwriter long ago. In my years of ministry, I have never witnessed someone abandon the faith “instantly.” Usually, the process involves a gradual decline, where love for God and His people seems to cool like room temperature when the heat is turned off. Before we are too critical or self-righteous about this, Isaiah reminds us that we are all guilty. No one has followed the Shepherd perfectly, and we must guard the downward tendencies of our own deceitful heart. But there is good news in the struggle. Jesus is greater than our heart! Because He loves us so much, He is willing to forgive our wanderings…and keep us by His power. His grace is truly amazing toward us! Yet, as followers of Christ, it is not enough to be content in the enjoyment of our relationship with the Shepherd. We have a responsibility to others. This involves helping brothers and sisters who have lost their way to find the path back to Him. In my devotions, I am reading (and re-reading) the Book of James. Here is how James ends: “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sin” (James 5:19-20). This Christmas season, you will probably meet several people who once lived close to Jesus but are now in “a far country.” Would you pray for them and be available to the Lord to say a word of encouragement or challenge…as the Holy Spirit directs you? If you were in their shoes, you would want someone to reach out to you. Be the one to help turn them from the error of their way, saving them from death and covering over a multitude of sins!
Today marks a special day on the calendar: the midpoint between Thanksgiving and Christmas. What a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for!
Two weeks ago, on Thanksgiving Day, we had an opportunity to look back over the year and remember the faithfulness of God’s provision. We gave God thanks, as the pilgrims did on that first Thanksgiving, for the blessings that sustained us throughout the year. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that God pours out those blessings on us so that we, in turn, will be able to bless others:
“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:10-11).
Two weeks from now, on Christmas Day, we can reflect on the fact that God has even greater, eternal blessings in store for us. His greatest gift, the gift of His Son, goes beyond the sustaining provision and grace which we experience in this world, ushering us into an abundant inheritance and life with Him in eternity:
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4-5).
That’s reason to celebrate! God has given us so many reasons to be grateful. May we never let go of the spirit of gratitude.
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
A few of you met her once or twice, some of you have heard about her, and many of you prayed for her. Terry Boucher’s mom, Angeline (Hafner) Sorbo, passed away Monday, November 26th, around 1:30 in the afternoon. Two of her daughters, who were able to make it to the hospital quickly, were singing to her at her bedside. Angie went to be with Jesus hearing the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.” What a beautiful song to usher Mom into the presence of the One she loved and served! As a son-in-law there are so many wonderful memories I could share about her. One that stands out to me is when Terry and I were dating, and I had a chance to visit her mom and dad at their house. Mom and I were talking in the kitchen and I dared to venture the question, “Do you think I’m the right one for your daughter?” She looked straight at me and said, “Yes, I think you are.” After being married to Angie’s daughter for over 40 years, I look back with great appreciation for her “vote of confidence.” Also, I am so grateful to Mom for the godly qualities she helped develop in her beautiful daughter, Terry. Mom loved Jesus and centered her life around prayer and worship. She also loved people and made time to talk and pray with anyone who sought her counsel. In a day when “in-laws” get a bad rap, I can say that God blessed me with the best mother-in-law I could ever imagine. At her bedside last week, I read from the Word of God in Psalm 37. Verse four says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This was Mom’s favorite verse, and it helped her focus on what really matters—especially in times of stress and difficulty. The world will hardly notice the passing of this 84-year-old woman. She was not famous, didn’t have a lot of money, wrote no books, and held no important titles. Yet, for us who knew her, her impact will always be deep and profound. She was a woman who feared the Lord and…she will be praised! Thank you, Mom, for showing us Jesus!
It has taken me a while, but I’ve learned something about myself. When I look at life as merely a lot of tasks and goals to accomplish, something deep inside of me starts to shrivel up. Focusing on just the work—even good work—causes my soul to feel dry and empty. Then, as I go to prayer and consider the Word of God, the Lord reminds me again about what is most important—truth that renews and rejuvenates my spiritual health. I was reading one such reminder yesterday from Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” So, we are called to be “imitators” of God! The Greek word for imitate is where we get “mimic” from. As God is and does, so we are to follow His example. Of course, there is much about God that only He can do. I can’t know everything or have inexhaustible power. However, I can do what God has called me to do…through Christ. I am most fulfilled in life when I love others and do my daily work in the love of Jesus. Love is a simple concept to hear, but so elusive to live in the context of everyday interactions with people. These verses in Ephesians reveal this about love: We can love because we are loved! God commands us to love, knowing that we can do this by first realizing how much He loves us. If I just try to love others in my own limited strength, I quickly give up if I don’t see or feel love being returned to me. But, if I am secure in knowing that I am loved unconditionally by the Father, the oversights and even rejections of others do not derail me. I can still experience a life a love because the Lord (not other people) is the One who replenishes my “supply” of love. So, we are to live a life of love “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (v. 2). A quick read of 1 Corinthians 13 also reminds us that our best efforts without love amount to a big zero with God. As we work and journey through the holiday season, adding tasks and goals to our sometimes already crowded schedules, let’s remember the greatest thing. Know that Jesus loves you, and that you can love because you are loved!
The famous 19th-century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said, “We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble and write our blessings in sand.” This Thursday, November 22, we get to celebrate a day declared as “Thanksgiving.” Of all the special days of the year, Thanksgiving is in the top three of my favorites (right behind Easter and Christmas). As we do a mental review of our lives, it’s easy to obsess and complain about what we don’t like. Karen Carpenter (a singer back in the 1970s) sang a hit song entitled, “Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down.” Life’s trials can feel like “spiritual gravity”—trying to keep us pressed down and feeling defeated. And then comes the Word of God! If you take some time in Psalms, you quickly discover how God’s people rose above the “gravity” of inconsistencies and the seeming unfairness of life. They made a choice, saying, “I will praise the Lord and be grateful!” Psalm 107 begins the last “book” of Psalms (which is divided into five books). This last section is all about praising the Lord, the true hero of life, who gives us himself and provides us with all we need.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).
Many of the previous psalms express lament and grief—expressions of honest hearts. However, this fifth and last section, Psalms 107 to 150, ascends into a magnificent crescendo of worship. Here’s a reminder: Even though we go through hard times, in the end we can rise above our problems and find our joy in the Lord. We give thanks to our Lord because of His love which endures forever. This Hebrew word love describes God’s never-ending riches of His daily mercy and kindness. If you woke up today and realized that the Lord is in your life, you have reason for thanks-giving! So, when tempted to “stay down,” hold your tongue, and instead, praise the Lord for His amazing grace. Happy Thanksgiving!