Happy Birthday!

On this day, 25 years ago, the Lord rescued my heart!  I grew up in church and, as far as I can remember, never missed a Sunday.  I also went Wednesday night (GA’s) and Sunday nights (Training Union). When I was in the 3rd grade, my friend went forward to “receive Christ” which meant he could now eat the Lord’s Supper.  Well, I wasn’t about to be left out of that party, so a couple of weeks later, I followed suit and a couple of weeks after that, I got to eat in church!  I just loved those little square, bland crackers with a teensy bit of grape juice.  I also got baptized and the entire church body came forward and shook my hand. I thought I was the stuff!  I participated in Bible drills and children’s choir and youth group and I knew the Bible.  I knew a LOT of the Bible.  I knew the characters and I can remember my Sunday school teachers telling me the stories and being fascinated with them.  I remember the first actual Bible study I did was on the book of Philippians and it was then that I began learning that there was more to the Bible than just cool stories and really old people.  I remember learning the Greek word for Holy Spirit and learning that it meant He would never leave me.  I also remember several times of “rededicating” my life and trying with all my might to get it right.  Only I had a huge problem. I knew the Word of the Lord, but I didn’t know the Lord of the Word.  I had a head knowledge, but my heart was far from God.  I believed, but even the demons believe and shudder.  

So in the summer of 1989 when I was 19, I participated in something called a Summer Beach Project through Campus Outreach. I wasn’t sure what was in store for me, but I knew I would get to spend the entire summer at the beach (and at this point in my life, I had only been to the beach one time before), so I was super excited.  The beach.  The boys.  The fun!!!  Part of Summer Beach Project was going out on the beach and sharing our faith on Saturdays, but in order to do this, we had to have a little bit of training.  So the second week we were there, we began learning how to share our faith. We learned several ways to do this and one was through a tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws.”  We had to learn the tract backwards and forwards and memorize the scripture that went with each “law.”  Then, we had to share the tract with 3 people in our own group just to make sure we weren’t going to botch it up once we got to the beach to share it with strangers. Well, I began “practicing” my tract with a friend of mine and when I got to law #4 which says “We must individually receive Christ as our personal Savior and Lord,” my palms began to get sweaty and my heart began to beat really, really fast.  My eyes began to get tears in them and I realized that I had never “individually received Christ as my Savior and LORD.”  I knew about Him, but I didn’t KNOW Him.  I remember looking at my friend and saying, “I’ve never done that.”  And she smiled and we prayed and the ceiling opened up and the lights of heaven flashed and the angels started swarming and I felt like I was 1,000 pounds lighter.

Not really.  Those things didn’t happen.  In fact, I didn’t really “feel” any differently than I had felt 10 minutes beforehand.  But as I began to get alone with the Lord and read His Word not just for the stories, my heart began to change and I had an assurance that I had never had before.  The promises of His Word took on new meaning.  I began to study, not for the stories, but for Him. I began to understand Who He was. The Words that were quite common began to leap off the page and make their way into my heart and mind and I began to understand what was meant by the “renewing of the mind.”  And I lived happily ever after.

Not really.  I have walked in days of transgressions, periods of sin and a few horrible seasons of iniquity.  One particular season almost did me in. It knocked me off course so badly that I began to wonder if I would ever have any peace again.  I remember thinking that there was no way possible that a Holy God could or would still love me after what I’d done.  I had walked so far away from the Lord that I didn’t think I going back would even be an option.  I was miserable….miserable in body, soul and spirit.  Yet all the while, God was convicting me of my sin.  I got really good at ignoring the conviction and continued to go my own way, even though I was desperately hurting and full of misery.  But one day….one beautiful, sunny day, I could ignore the conviction no longer.  The voice of the Lord brought me to my knees (literally) while I was in the shower.  I heard His voice as clear as a bell and couldn’t escape.  I love the verse that says, “He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure (Ps. 40:2).”  I love that verse because I KNOW that verse.  I AM that verse. I was in a pit of muddy clay and my feet were stuck.  My heart was hard and darkness was all around.  There was nowhere to go and no one to turn to.  But God….He reached down, yanked me up by my toenails and set my feet on solid ground.  

I didn’t immediately feel any different. I didn’t get out of the shower and start singing songs of praise.  I didn’t begin smiling and walking on sunshine. But I did begin pouring out my heart to a God who already knew everything I had done and loved me anyway. And, little by little, I began to get back into His Word and to learn what He said about Himself (He never changed. He never stopped loving me and pursuing my heart.  He never moved.)  I began to get back in church (there’s just something about being with God’s people and corporate worship).  I began to talk to others and ask for help (because occasionally, we need a little help from our friends). And slowly, little by little, my feet felt steady.  My heart felt secure again (it was never not secure, but feelings can easily lead us to believe otherwise) and my mind began being renewed day by day.  Looking back, though I would never never, never, never, not in a million years, ever want to go through a season like that again, I can honestly say that, through it all, there’s one thing I learned above all else.  I. Am. His.  He never stopped loving me.  He never stopped pursing me.  He never stopped putting people and circumstances in my life to point me back to Him.  And, true to His Word, He used it all for HIS glory.  

25 years ago….on a warm, summer evening, while sitting on the floor reading a tract surrounded by a bunch of friends, my salvation wasn’t about me.  My salvation wasn’t for me, though there are tons of benefits.  My salvation was for Him, so He could show off.  And so I could be His.  No longer separated.  No longer wandering.  No longer on mushy ground.  But HIS… for now and for all of eternity. That’s the best birthday present ever!!  

 

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Guilty!

I was sitting with a group of folks the other day and someone needed a pen.  I began digging in my purse to find them one and laughingly commented that in addition to pens, I also had needles and syringes in my purse (for medication purposes).  One person said, “Ooh, that could be bad.  I hope you don’t have a lighter in there, too.”  To which I responded, “Oh shoot, I sure do.”  We laughed and talked about how if I got pulled over, the only thing the cops would need to throw me in jail would be a spoon (I did NOT have one of those in my “everything but the kitchen sink” purse).  And then one person in our group said, “You know, it would be a horrible thing to be accused of something that you didn’t do, even if the evidence was stacked against you.  I cannot imagine how frustrating and helpless that would feel.”  We batted it around for a few moments then got distracted by a cute baby. But when I left, I got to thinking about the evidence that is stacked against me.  I am a Christian.  If you come to my house, there will be evidence there that, on the surface, says, “A Believer lives here.”  I am going to guess we could round up at least 10 Bibles.  I have pictures with scripture on them.  The music on my iPod is mostly Christian music.  If you came early in the morning, you’d catch me having my quiet time. I have a bunch of colored index cards with scripture on them I am trying to memorize (emphasize “trying”). I go to church on Sunday mornings, and I go to a weekly Bible study.  There’s just a lot of stuff that makes it appear that I am a Christian.  The material evidence would be stacked against me. And if it were material evidence alone, I would probably be found guilty.  

But what about the evidence that isn’t material.  Could I be found guilty if someone weren’t looking for material things?  Could I be convicted on the gentleness of my words?  Could I be convicted on the amount of love I show others?  Could I be convicted on how submissive I am to my husband?  Could I be convicted on how selfless I am?  Could I be convicted on how much joy I have, even when things aren’t going well?  Could I be convicted on how much patience I have when I am on the phone with the cable company for messing up my bill?  Could I be convicted for how much I give?  Could I be convicted on how nonjudgmental I am?  Or would these things render me “not guilty” of walking out what I believe?  

I have been studying Isaiah for quite some time now (it’s a long, long book), and a recurring theme is that the Israelites “turned to their own ways and chose what the Lord didn’t delight in.”  They were found “not guilty” of walking in the ways that God established for them.  They were found “not guilty” of keeping the law because they continually did what was right in their own eyes. Yet the Lord restored them back to Himself and took them back again and again.  Not because of what they did or didn’t do, but because of the covenant that He made with them. They were guilty in a bad way.  I used to be guilty in a bad way, but Jesus changed all that at Calvary.  Now, there’s no more bad guilty, but I want there to be good guilt.

Because I have been set free and have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, I want to be found GUILTY.  I want to be guilty of living like a Believer.  I want the immaterial evidence to be stacked against me so that, together with the “NOT GUILTY” pronouncement of Christ on my life, I can stand before Him one day and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  

Giving UP

We are 4 days into the season of Lent.  Lent is a 40 day period before Easter (not counting Sundays) where, historically, Christians have given up something as a reminder of the great sacrifice Christ made to redeem a sinful people.  The sweet, Southern Baptist church I gre up in didn’t “do” Lent.  I remember in high school how some of my friends would come in on Thursday with an ashy cross on their forehead and I was so intrigued by it (Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent).  And I remember how some of them would give up Dr. Pepper or the delicious chocolate pie in the lunchroom.  Back then, I wasn’t having part of anything that might require me to give up the chocolate pie in the lunchroom (that’s when lunchroom stuff was homemade).  More recently, when I truly learned what Lent was all about, I have become interested in what people give up.  I have asked around and heard answers like sweets, television, Facebook, caffeine, alcohol and bread (may it never be!).  All of these “give ups” usually have some sort of benefit to the giver-upper.  For example, if I give up sweets, it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll lose a pound or two.  If I give up caffeine, though the people I’m around in the morning would probably not appreciate it, my heart would be a little healthier.  If I give up Facebook or television, I would probably spend more time actually talking or reading or on some activity that’s not merely just a time-filler.  Generally speaking, the things we give up are things we know we do too much of and, on some level, have some sort of benefit for us.

But in asking people what they’re giving up for Lent, I have never heard anyone say, “Unforgiveness.  Bitterness.  Fear.  Worry.  Hatred.  Gossip.”  I’ve never said any of those things either.  For me, giving up Junior Mints or Cheez-its or coffee ice cream is, in my mind, sacrifice enough.  But is it really?  Why is it that we are so willing to give up things that we are comfortable with, but the things that truly should make our hearts uncomfortable, we are willing to hang on to with both hands?  Why are we so willing to give up something that is not eternal yet hold on to something that could change our eternity?  After all, I truly doubt that when I get to heaven, God is going to ask me about Junior Mints.  However, He will hold me accountable for the way I treated other people.  Did I put them ahead of myself, or did I hold on to my selfish ways a little too tightly?  Did I extend forgiveness in the measure which was extended to me, or did I hold on to unforgiveness while making someone work to try and earn my forgiveness?  Did I hold on to my stubborn heart because “that’s the way God made me”?  Did I allow my fear of the unknown to keep me from walking in faith? 

When God tells us to do something, He will most surely give us the strength to do it.  After all, it would be cruel of Him to tell us something and then say, “Hey. Get rid of all your fear, but do it on your own.  Good luck.”  Or “Forgive others as I have forgiven you but good luck with that because it’s a toughie.”  NO!  When God tells us to do something, if we ask Him, He will give us the strength and the power to do it.  Why would I ask my child to vacuum her room without having a vacuum cleaner in the house?  Why would I ask a student to take out of a math book without providing him one?  That would just be cruel.  And my God is not cruel. He is good.  All the time. And He gives good gifts to His children.  If we ask Him for bread, will He give us a stone?  Nope.  He will give us bread…and sometimes the bread will even have cheese on it, because He does exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we can ask or think. 

Let’s truly give up something for Lent.  Let’s give up something we were never meant to carry as Believers in Christ.  Let’s give it to Him and ask Him to help us give it up.  I can promise you that’s a promise He will keep.  Today, I am giving up my anxiety about something.  Oh, I imagine I will pick it up again tomorrow, but when I do, I will give it right back to Him.  And soon, if I keep giving it to Him and asking Him to help me with it, my anxiety will be replaced with His perfect peace.  What are you giving up?

 

A Study in Contrasts

Ewww…..the title alone makes me think of my ONE Art Appreciation class at UNA years ago.  I hated that class.  I just couldn’t understand the lines and angles and shadows and such.  It was a in an auditorium-like classroom and, of course, the instructor turned off the lights so we could see the slides and, well, when the lights went off….let’s just say I was very good at pretending to watch the slides behind closed eyelids….which was duly reflected in my grade at the end of the semester.  But when you think of the word “contrast,” what do you think of?  Opposites?  Antonyms?  My husband and I are one of those couples that, on paper, don’t go together at all.  We are a study in contrasts.  He likes vegetables…I do not.  He can sit on the couch all day watching golf….I can’t sit on the couch all day unless I’m sick.  I like movies…he does not.  He will throw out a shirt with the teensiest stain or hole….I could care less.  He likes his pants creased and his shirts starched….wrinkles don’t bother me.  He is prepared at any time for any situation….I sort of fly by the seat of my pants.  He processes information by talking…I process by thinking.  He hates to read…I could read for days.  He could sleep through a tornado….I can hear a mouse poot.  We are opposites.  Contrasted in several areas of life.  The only thing that has made our marriage work is Christ (and there was a time we both seriously doubted that even He could make it work, but that’s not what this post is about). 

I was reading in Isaiah recently and began to take notice of chapter 11 which lists several contrasts that only God could make possible.  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the young lion will be together and a child will lead them, the cow and bear will graze together, the lion will eat straw (a carnivore becomes a herbivore), an infant will play beside a cobra’s pit and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den (that sends chils up this snake-hater’s spine).  All of those things will happen when the Prince of PEACE comes to rule and reign.  Opposites will live peacefully with each other.  But until that time, those animals cannot co-exist.  Christ does this in our lives now.  He oppositizes us so we can live at peace with Him now.  We are sinners and are separated from a Holy God until Jesus comes into our hearts and gives us access to Him.  Sinner is a direct contrast of saint.  God calls us to love, not hate.  God calls us to kindness, not meanness.  Forgiveness instead of bitterness.  Humility instead of pride.  Slavery for sonship.  Freedom instead of shackles.  Selflessness instead of selfishness.  “You” instead of “me”.  Purity instead of sexual immorality.  Gracious words instead of slander.  Truth instead of lies.  Peace instead of chaos.  Things that are, on their own, unattainable.  In fact, we can wear ourselves out trying to do them in our own strength.  A life of opposites is only made possible by Christ.  Only He can give us the “insteads”.  Only He can fill us with love where there once was hate.  Only He can help us forgive where there are deep areas of hurt.  Only He can adopt us into the family of God and set us free from a life of bondage.  Only He can assign us the title of “saint” where we once held the title of “sinner.”  Only He can work in our hearts and rearrange everything according to His will and purpose for our lives. 

Light dispels darkness.  They are total opposites.  Total darkness is just…well….dark.  Completely dark.  Have you seen the commercial that says a single match can be seen from a mile away if there is total darkness?  That’s amazing.  And that’s Jesus.  Jesus came to do away wtih the darkness.  He is the opposite.  “I am the light of the world.  Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)   And in Him, life is light (as in the opposite of heavy).  Light vs. darkness and light vs. heavy.  He does both.  Jesus…the One who gives us the opposites.  Is there something you need to swap?  Ask Him…the original author of antonyms….and He will do it.  I know, because He has “oppositized” my heart. 

 

Zealous!

I have a little boy in my class that absolutely loves to go to school.  It doesn’t matter what we do during the day, he finds something to be excited about.  On days that we really do have something special, he can barely contain himself.  His mom has told me that even on the weekends, he talks about school and his friends and sometimes wakes up excited at 5:00 in the morning.  And he has a learning disability.  One that causes him not to be able to read, write and do math on a 4th grade level.  For much of the day, he is not in my room, but in another room learning to do these things on his level.  But he wants to be in my room.  He continually asks if he can stay (it breaks my heart to tell him “no.“)  Yet he remains excited.  So excited that some days, it’s hard for me to calm him down enough to work.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  His excitement and love for being in a learning environment makes my heart happy.  And when he tells me he loves me…well….I can’t even begin to describe it. 

Recently, we had an assignment that I knew was going to be difficult for him.  In fact, I really didn’t expect him to do it at all.  But as students begin to come to my desk one at a time to complete their assignment (they had to memorize something and recite it back to me), he began waving his little hand for me to call on him.  I must confess.  I didn’t call on him right away because I thought, “Surely he doesn’t know it. Surely he will just say some words that he overhears the others saying. Surely he didn’t memorize what I asked him to.”  But he came to my desk…and he recited every single line…..perfectly.  Yes, he skipped a word at the beginning and, yes, he swapped two words at the end, but for him, and for me, it was PERFECT!!  I wish you could have been there.  I wish you could have seen the faces of his classmates who know that he struggles.  I wish you could have heard them burst into applause when he finished.  I wish you could have seen the tears in my eyes.  And I wish you could have seen his smile…a smile that spread from one side of his face to the other.  A smile that said, “See…..you doubted me, but I knew I could do it.” 

I was reading in Isaiah 9 recently, which talks about the coming of the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah was a prophet who was sent to the Israelites to warn them of the coming judgment from God.  The Israelites were God’s chosen people and they weren’t acting very nice..  idolatry was rampant, and they had begun to depend upon themselves instead of God.  So Isaiah had some warnings for them.  He warned them that God’s anger would “burn against them and His hand would be raised to strike.”  He warned them that their land would be scorched and they would be hungry.  He warned them that many of their men would die and that vineyards would be devastated.  But they were His chosen people, so He also gave them a Promise.  A Promise of One who would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  God promised them a Deliverer whose name would be Emmanuel.  And the last part of Isaiah 9:7 says, ‘…the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this.”  Zeal.  I always thought “zeal” was excitement and, in a way, it is.  But in the Hebrew, this “zeal” means “jealous.”  Jealous.  Excitedly jealous. (think last chocolate donut in a roomful of chocolate donut eating people).  Although God’s people turned away from Him and were doing whatever their merry hearts desired, He remained jealous for them and was so excitedly jealous for them to return to Him, that He would send His only Son to die so that we might live.  Jealous enough to sacrifice.  Jealous enough to keep His covenant promises in spite of what they had done. Jealous enough to “accomplish this.”  Phil. 1:6 says “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”  The words “accomplish” in Isaiah 9:7 and “complete” in Phil. 1:6 mean the very same thing.  The very same thing!  Do you get it? The same excited jealousness that God had for His Israelites is the same excited jealousness that He has for us!  He is so jealous for us that He will be faithful to do whatever it takes to “be faithful to complete the work that HE began in us.”  It’s all about Him.  He is the one who captured my heart from the beginning.  He is the one who continues to shape it and mold it into what He wants it to be.  He is the one that is excitedly jealous to complete it.  Can you imagine God, looking down from heaven and saying, “Ooh…see that one.  Wait until you see what I am going to do in her life.  Oh, and look at that one.  Yeah…he wandered his own way for a while but I am wooing him back to My heart and when he returns, watch out!  He will do great things for me. Oh, oh and there’s ________.  Hmm…you should see the plans I’ve had for her from the beginning of time.  I can’t wait to show off through her life. Ah, there’s _______.  Her task today is obedience.” And as He watches and His eyes search for those whose heart is upright, He bursts into applause because we have “completed our assignment.

He has been excitedly jealous for His children since before time began.  Excited like my students were when our friend recited his assignment that was perfect just for him.  Jealous because He gave a great sacrifice to capture my heart.  Excitedly jealous for me to seek after Him with my whole heart.  And faithfully completing what He began…for His glory. 

 

Proof!

I have a secret.  Please don’t tell…and please don’t think less of me when I confess.  Occasionally, if I’m really, really bored at the right time of day, I watch “Moonshiners.”  I know, I know.  Redneck finery at its best.  Despite the content of the show, I have learned a few things.  I now know the difference between “moonshiners” and “bootleggers.”  I can name all of the major ingredients in whiskey.  I know that if its flavored whiskey (say, strawberry, for instance), they use all of the fruit – stems, seeds, leaves – all of it- in their “mash.”  I also know what mash is.  I know what a still looks like, and why it’s best to use copper.  I know if you taste it and it makes you go “whew” (followed by a bleep), it’s going to be good stuff (according to the moonshiner).  On these days I am extremely bored and there is nothing, absolutely nothing else on television.  Trust me.  I only watch it out of necessity.  And who would ever believe that “Moonshiners” would come into play during my quiet time? 

While watching the show recently, I learned what “proof” is.  Now, I am not a drinker, so I can’t tell you what the “proof” of beer is as compared to whiskey.  I don’t know the difference between 80 proof and 100 proof or even if those are real numbers.  What I did learn was this:  In the times when pirate ships sailed the seas (a long, long time ago), sailors were allotted a specific amount of alcohol each day (I think they said vodka, but I can’t remember because I was only halfway listening).  Some ship owners were notorious for watering down the alcohol, thus lessening its desired affect, which was actually to ease the seasickness experienced by sailors on rough seas.  It became a widely known practice for sailors to mix a little gunpowder with a sample of alcohol and light it with a match to see if it was mixed with water.  If it flamed up, it was “proof” that it was real alcohol and not a mixture.  If it did not flame up, it was “proof” that it was watered down.  History lesson over.

What does this have to do with a quiet time?  As I was reading in Hebrews the other day, I came to the verse that says, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.”  And immediately my mind thought of “Moonshiners.”  I cannot see God, but He proves Himsef every morning when He gives me new mercies.  I cannot see the Holy Spirit, but He proves Himself to me when He speaks to me with a gentle whisper.  I cannot see Jesus, but He proves Himself to me through the people in the New Testament that walked with Him.  To think about it, faith and proof are opposites.  Faith means I believe in something (in this case, something I cannot see).  Proof means I can see it, touch it, know that it is there.  And faith is the reality of what is hoped for.  The very first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning God created…” and that alone takes much faith!  I can see the “proof.”  I walk on the grass and see the trees.  I have an animal and I have swam (swum, swimmed??) in the ocean.  I can see the stars at night and feel the sunlight by day.  That is “proof” that there is a world, and, for me, proof of the “faith” of “In the beginning God created..”  That’s why it’s called faith.  Something I can totally explain doesn’t take any faith.  I can totally explain what happened to the candy bar that was in the drawer.  I can totally explain why there are no clean clothes in the closet.  i can totally explain why the milk is spoiled.  I cannot totally explain “In the beginning God….” and that’s why it requires faith.  But what about the proof?

In I Peter 1, Peter talks a little about faith and says that the genuineness of our faith will be proved by….wait for it…fire!  Not literal fire (though that is entirely possible and has been true for martyrs throughout the centuries), but he makes a comparison to our faith being like gold, which is tested through fire.  So the testing that we endure is “proof” of our faith!  And when we endure and emerge from the fire with greater faith than when we went in, the result is praise, honor and glory to God!  Now, really, excuse this analogy, but hang with me.  Suppose the “alcohol” is our faith and the “gunpowder” is the test we are enduring.  What happens when they are lit?  Fire!  And how did the Holy Spirit manifest Himself in Acts?  Fire! The testing of my faith is the “proof” that I am His, and He is mine.  Faith + Test = PROOF! 

Going through a trial?  Hang on…God will never leave you or forsake you!  Got a test coming up?  Keep your eyes on Jesus….He will not fail.  Walking through stormy seas?  Endure….He is right there with you.   All of it is to the praise and glory of His name and what is the benefit we receive?  An increase in faith and PROOF of His amazing love for us. 

 

 

Hinds’ feet…

This morning, I enjoyed a walk on the Greenway.  The sun was shining and the breeze was blowing.  It was perfect! I saw a crane, one of my favorite birds, and a couple of deer.  The birds were singing and it was a great way to begin my day. One of the deer was at the base of a very steep hill…the kind of hill that humans cannot scale without help.  It was almost straight up, but this little buck (he had the cutest little nubs of antlers) acted as if it were nothing.  He skipped and leaped up the hill as if it were as flat as a pancake.  Scaling a steep hill was nothing to him.  He looked like he had springs in his feet and in a flash, he was halfway up.  Had it been me, I would have been whining and sliding and grunting and slipping and moaning and groaning within the first couple of feet.  Not little Bucky.  He was a pro!

Ever though about hills?  There are different kinds.  Some are meadow hills covered with lush, green grasses and little flowers.  These are the ones perfect for rolling down on a bright spring day.  Some hills are steep with trees and vines and bushes covering them, making them almost impossible to cross.  Some hills are rocky and steep and nothing grows on them at all.  Some hold back the waters of the sea.  Some lead to refreshing streams of water.  Some have a deep valley between them. Leaping on the hills is what God does for us when we allow Him to lead us in the paths He has laid for us.  In II Samuel 22:34, it says, “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer and sets me securely on the heights.”  A deer is light on his feet.  Ever watched one bound away when he’s scared?  It’s as if he weighs nothing.  And when deer scale a steep hill, they don’t wobble.  Their balance is effortless.  There are days I can’t even bend down and get something I dropped without wobbling.  Not the deer!  Their balance is perfect…even while skipping, bounding, and running uphill.  The verse above is a fairly common verse.  It’s also the basis for a book (Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard) which I love (hang with it, though.  It’s a little difficult at first).  I have heard it quoted quite a bit.  However, no one seems to quote the verse above it, which makes this verse even possible to do at all.  How do we have “feet like a deer?”  Let’s look and see.

David quotes this scripture as a prayer to God after his deliverance from his enemies and from Saul, the King that had David running for his very life.  In the prayer, David says, “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is a rock?  Only our God.  God is my strong refuge; He makes my way perfect.”  So how do we have feet like a deer?  We worship.  Just like David.  For there certainly is no God besides the LORD (the capital letters are important here because in the OT, the all-capitals “LORD” is Yahweh, which indicates the matchless holiness of God).  And who is our Rock?  Only our God.  David goes on to say that God is his strong refuge.  What do we need to climb hills and mountains?  Strength.  Where do we get it?  From God.  Then, David acknowledges that “He makes my way perfect.”  When we make our own way, we mess it up badly, but when we depend on God, He “makes our way perfect.”  Not perfect in the sense that we think perfect ought to be, but perfect for each individual who has God as their rock.  Perfect….to make us look more like Him.  If I had tried to go up that hill this morning, I would have needed an axe, or something to knock down the brush, and I would’ve needed shoes with spikes in them.  Imagine God going before us and paving the way…knocking down the brush and smoothing out the path so that we can walk with ease….just like a deer. 

Are you climbing a hill?  Is there a rocky hill just up the road?  Is there a hill covered with trees and vines and dead stuff that looks impossible from your viewpoint?  How do we climb them?  We worship.  Wholeheartedly.  We acknowledge and affirm that there is no God but our God.  And we look to Him to pave the way for us to walk.  This may mean standing still and waiting for a bit, or it may mean beginning to walk up the hill with faith that He will strengthen our legs and feet for the journey.  I’m not sure what your hill looks like, nor am I sure of how you are supposed to begin walking, but I do know that His Word says He will make our feet like a deer and set us securely on the heights.  Secure in the Rock of our Salvation. 

I hope I see Bucky again.  He was so cute!  And I bet when I see him, he will look at me for a brief moment, then bound away on his feet with springs as if the hills are nothing.  Oh to have feet like a deer.  May this be our prayer as we scale the hills ahead. 

The Kicker

There are two more things rolling around in my brain about the Iron Bowl, so bear with me.  The first is this:  the Kicker.  Poor guy. With just one movement of his right leg, he became a household name in the state of Alabama, famouser even than Captain Kangaroo (name that movie).  He lost the game.  He lost the title for his team.  He lost the bragging rights for an entire year because he missed the kick.  I don’t have his stats, but I bet he has been successful more than he has been unsuccessful.  It just so happened that this kick was a really important kick.  And everyone was watching. And the pressure was on.  And even though I bet he’s kicked thousands right, this one went wrong.  Very wrong.  Football fans are curious creatures. They can turn on a player on a dime. I heard that poor boy even had death threats against him.  If he had made the field goal, he would have been a hero, but because he missed it, he became a target, and people will be talking about him for years to come. Bless his heart.

I am so thankful that God does not remember me for my unsuccesses.  He is very clear that He “remembers my sins no more.”  This is very different from forgetting.  If God is all-knowing (and He is), then there is absolutely no way that He can forget. He could remember…but he chooses to not remember.  He chooses not to hold my sins against me.  He chooses to see me as righteous because of the blood of Jesus rather than to see me condemned because of my own failures.  Isaiah 43:25 says that it is “…for His own sake…” that He chooses to “sweep away our transgressions and remember our sins no more.”  So, that kick that I missed several years ago…God chooses not to remember that.  Oh sure, there are still earthly consequences that I must deal with, but God doesn’t remember my sin.  When I boldly approach the throne of grace, He doesn’t say, “Oh dear. Here she comes.  The one who missed the field goal.  The one who choked when it really counted.  The one who chose to ignore my instruction and go her own way.”  Instead, He says, “Oh, here she is!  How my soul delights in her!”  (Ps. 18:19).  And the kicker (no pun intended)??  It’s not for me, it’s for HIM.  He forgives for HIS benefit.  He remembers no more for HIS benefit.  Do I benefit from that?  Certainly!  But it is all intended to bring glory to Him, because life is all about Him.  

I bet that Alabama kicker had trained for that moment from the time he was a little boy.  I bet he used to lay in bed and dream about the very moment when the stands were on their feet, when his team was down by one point, when his coach looked into his eyes with his hands on his shoulders and said, “You can do this, boy.”  I bet he had a goal in his backyard and his momma used to have to call him in at dark or he would’ve kicked until midnight.  I bet he did everything possible to train for that one moment in time.  But in that one second, his foot turned.  Or he slipped.  Or whatever the reason was that the kick pulled a little to the side. And he missed.  I bet he wishes he could take it back.  I bet he wishes he had a “do over.”  I bet he wishes he had trained a little bit harder the week prior.  I bet he’d give anything to take it back.  And sin is like that.  We wish we could take it back, but once it’s done. We wish we could go back in time and make a different decision and say something different or keep our mouths shut.  But once it’s done, it’s done. Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.  On our end, yes.  It is done.  But on my Father’s end, it was done when He said, “It is finished.”  And because of His finish, my sin is “done” and remembered no more.  In heaven, I am not remembered for what I have done, but for Whose I am. Do I wish I could forget? Sure, but I am, human and I don’t have that capacity. Do I have to walk the rest of my days in guilt?  Nope.  Will I have another chance at a field goal?  Every single day.  Can I train harder and better so that I can get it right. Sure, but I also know that no matter how hard I train, I will still miss then from time to time. Will there be forgiveness again?  Every. Single. Time.  

Thank you, Jesus, that you choose not to remember me for my misses, but instead, you delight in me because of what Jesus did for me on the cross.  Thank you that you love me in spite of my sinfulness.  Thank you that your face is always turned towards me. Thank you that you have called me by name, and that name is Redeemed.  

Go kick a field goal today! 

 

One Second

Yes, I am still thinking about the Iron Bowl.  Yes, I am an Alabama fan.  No, I am not a Nick Saban fan (more about that later).  Yes, my heart still hurts for the kicker (I felt so very sorry for him).  Yes, I know how those boys felt as they tried in vain to tackle the guy who caught the field goal and ran it back 100+ yards to win the game for the other team (much like I feel when I try to run – like I am running in peanut butter).  From now and forever more, the words “one second” will be etched in the hearts of every Alabama fan on the planet.  One second.  What a difference one second makes. I have no idea what was going through Saban’s mind when he decided to kick a field goal.  I have no idea what was going through his mind as he watched the game slip away from his grasp.  I have no idea why he made the decision he made, but I’d be willing to bet my box of Godiva chocolate covered pretzels that he wishes with all his heart that he could undo what he did. One second. It seems so insignificant, but, as the game proved, it can turn the course of history.

In the days following the game, I was thinking about “one second” experiences and how they shape our lives.  It takes one second to extend grace.  It takes one second to begin a prayer.  It takes one second to speak an encouraging word.  It takes one second to smile.  It takes one second to begin to forgive.  It takes one second to breathe the name of Jesus.  It takes one second to choose love instead of hate.  It takes one second to choose right instead of wrong.  It takes one second to kiss a cheek.  It takes one second to wink.  It takes one second to begin to decide to walk forward instead of dwelling on the past.  It takes one second to make a choice to honor the Lord with our body instead of choosing something that glorifies ourselves instead.  

In contrast, it takes one second to look upon someone with lustful eyes.  One second to smear a name in gossip.  One second to tell a little white lie.  One second to swipe a credit card for a purchase that’s not needed.  One second to speak ill of someone. One second to change a number on a deposit slip and steal from the company. One second to eat one more bite when my tummy is full.  One second to decide to put off until tomorrow what should be done today.  

Perhaps most importantly, it takes one second to say “yes” to Jesus.  It takes one second for a life to be radically changed for Christ.  It takes one second for Him to impart a hunger and desire for His Word that can never be satisfied with worldly pleasures.  It takes one second to move from religion to relationship.  It takes one second to dive headfirst into a new life where God can take our “one second” moments and turn them into monumental victories.  There will be days we miss the field goal.  There will be days we are running after something and fall short of tackling it.  There will be days where one second seems like an eternity that may never end. There will be days when someone from the other team seems as if they are winning the race.  But I’d rather spend my life of “one seconds” with a God who can make them add up to something beautiful than for them to merely be moments ticking off a clock.  

One second can indeed change the course of history.  

 

Water jug

What a week! We had standardized testing this week, and I don’t know who hates it worse – me or my students. I do know this. We will have a generation that will be really good at taking standardized tests. This is essential because I take standardized tests every day of my grown-up life. NOT! It drives me crazy! Students are so used to multiple choices now, and when we ask them to do something “out of the box”, like actually solve a problem, they whine for choices. It’s maddening! Oh well. Glad it’s over this year!

I was reading in Mark this morning (yes, I am still in Mark). I love how sometimes, when I’m reading God’s Word, He makes something that seems really obscure jump out at me. There are really no obscure parts because it’s all God-breathed. There is only obscurity in our minds as we read, but, at the appropriate time, He will open our eyes and show us, once again, how truly divine His Word really is. That’s what happened for me this morning.

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Passover happened in the spring of the year and all Jews who were able were required to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover feast (isn’t it just like God to put it in the spring so that those who were traveling wouldn’t get too hot or too cold). During this time, the city of Jerusalem was super crowded! Remember when Jesus turned over the money-changing tables at the temple? It was packed! People that lived in Jerusalem either had relatives stay with them or opened their homes (for a fee) to strangers. Those who couldn’t afford to rent a room or who had no relatives stayed on the outskirts in tents. Those who had no tents just slept under the stars. But Jerusalem was crowded! Think farmer’s market on a beautiful spring, Saturday morning. Think grocery store the day before Thanksgiving. Think Garth Brooks concert for flood victims. Think of the biggest crowds you can imagine and then pack that crowd into a tiny city (less than 10 square miles) and that’s what is was like during the Passover feast. People were hustling and bustling everywhere, visiting with old friends, gathering items for the Passover feast itself, worshiping at the temple, catching up on family news – it was busy!

Because Jesus and his disciples were Jewish, it was necessary that they partake in the Passover feast. So when the disciples ask where Jesus wants to have it, He tells Peter and John to go into Jerusalem (which must mean they were on the outskirts) and find a man carrying a water jug. What?? In a city of less than 10 square miles that is PACKED with people, they are supposed to find one man carrying a water jug??!!? Surely, because of the time of year and what was taking place, there would be more than one man carrying a water jug! Surely there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Jerusalem carrying water jugs. After all, they couldn’t just turn on the spigot! Yet Jesus tells them to “go into the city, and a man carrying a water jug will meet you.” Had Jesus talked to this man beforehand and set this up? Did Jesus know this man? Was he a distant relative? Had he been in the crowds listening to Jesus in the days prior to the feast? One man. Carrying a water jug. In a city of thousands of folks. One man.

And when the disciples found the man, they were supposed to follow him, go into the house he entered and tell the owner (not ask, tell), “Where is the guest room for Jesus to eat the Passover meal with His disciples?” And the owner would show the disciples….”a large room upstairs, FURNISHED AND READY.”

I realized this morning that this man carrying a water jug and the owner of his house and the room that was prepared and ready were all preordained by a soverign God who set these events in motion a thousand years before they were to come to pass. And if God is soverign and does not change, what does He have preordained for me? And if He tells me to do something as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack, would I willingly do it, or would I question Him? I wonder if Peter and John looked at Jesus like He was crazy, knowing that this was probably going to be a difficult task? Sometimes that’s how I look at God. Sometimes I question what He has planned for me, and then, this morning, I see that all of the events fit together like puzzle pieces. The man was carrying a water jug, the disciples followed him back to hiw owner’s house, they talked to the owner, and the owner showed them a room that was already READY! God prepares things for us before we even need them! He preordained good works for us before the beginning of time! And He has them READY if we will just be obedient, even when it seems impossible.

The last Passover that would ever be needed took place in the bonus room of a man’s house, and all we know of him is that he had a slave who went to get water and he already had the room ready. Wonder if God told him in a dream to prepare it? Wonder if he sat on the ladder that led to the room and listened to Jesus and his disciples during that last supper? Wonder if he enjoyed the Passover feast with his own family in the kitchen down below while the last Passover Lamb was eating upstairs? Wonder if he knew the significance of what he did? I doubt it.

Sometimes we don’t know the significance of what God has preordained for us to do, but we still need to do it. If God has called us to do something, He will equip us, and if God, in his soverignty has called us, it will have significance. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but God doesn’t do things that are insignificant. Ever! Let’s look for the water jug today. Let’s walk in the things that God has preordained for us. Let’s remember that we are not obscure and that God has His eyes on us at all times, looking for ways to bless us and lead us into those works. Let’s not look at Him like He’s crazy, but be thankful that He has called us and allowed us to be part of His kingdom here on earth.

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