Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Child's Walk with His Father

“Let’s go,” the father called to his four-year-old son.

Jimmy scampered over and reached his small hand up for his dad’s firm grasp. Eagerly he tugged on the strong arm, “Let’s go, let’s go,” he sang.

Small hand wrapped firmly in the larger hand, out the door they walked, down the sidewalk. Jimmy hopped and skipped and gleefully noticed everything. “Wow! Look at that bird. Look, look, an airplane.” He paused momentarily to point and stare skyward.
Soon a large German shepherd barked noisily at them. Jimmy jumped, edging closer to his dad. “Daddy, I’m scared, carry me,” he pleaded.

“Don’t worry; I won’t let that dog hurt you.” Dad scooped Jimmy up and swung him onto his broad shoulders.

Soon they came to an intersection. “Stop!” called Jimmy. “Look left. Look right. Any cars? No? Okay, go,” just as his father had taught him. Together they safely crossed the street.

“Daddy, I want down.” Once again, strong arms lifted Jimmy off his dad’s shoulders and set him safely on the sidewalk.

Jimmy, like most young children, loves to spend time with his dad. With childlike faith, he puts his hand in the strong hand of his father, trusting him completely. Together, they walk wherever the father chooses, knowing their time together is more important than the path they choose. Even though they utter few words, they communicate. In times of difficulties or danger, the son instinctively draws closer to his father, who carries him.
In the same way the small child trusts his father on his walk, so we trust our heavenly Father on our life’s walk. Trustingly, we place our hand in His. We talk to Him, expressing our delight in what we encounter, and our fears of what lies ahead. No matter what, we confidently walk with Him on whatever path He chooses. If we listen to His words and follow His advice, we know we will avoid danger, just like the child who learned to look both ways before crossing the street. Will our walk always be pleasant? No. Will we ever become fatigued or frightened? Yes. Will there be times of great difficulties? Of course. But like a small child, we confidently look up and say, “Daddy, I need help, carry me.” Whatever difficulties we face, our Father, who listens to our pleas, picks us up with his strong hands, swings us up on His broad shoulders, and carries us safely though life’s journey.

Father God, teach me to have child-like trust in You.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV) “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dress for Success

Every morning as I prepare for my day, I decide what to wear. Looking in my closet and dresser, I have choices to make. Do I wear a skirt today? Slacks? Jeans? What top coordinates with the skirt or pants? Both must match in color, and appropriateness for the weather and occasion. Next, I must decide on appropriate accessories. Which shoes? Belt? Scarf? Jewelry? All these choices must match one another to create a unified whole. Once I make my decisions and dress, I’m ready for the day.

Just as I am able to choose daily what clothes I’ll wear, I have choices in what to don from my spiritual closet. What shall I wear today? Shall it be a spirit of complaining or a spirit of gratefulness? If I wear the spirit of complaining, I must also put on bitterness and accessorize with sorrow, for these create a coordinated ensemble. Before deciding, I wonder, “Is this what a child chosen by God would wear? Is this appropriate attire for the daughter of the King?” No, I must discard those clothes and choose to wear the spirit of gratefulness today. To match gratefulness, I must choose compassion and humility, for they naturally complement one another. In order to accessorize, I choose good deeds for my feet. To top it all off the sparkling gem of God’s love unifies the ensemble. Now I’m ready for the day.

Father, help me choose wisely from my closet of spiritual clothing.

Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mr. B.'s Records

Let me introduce you to an acquaintance of mine, Beelzebub, Mr. B. for short. Mr. B. is a great accountant. He keeps the ledger for souls, your soul and mine. Meticulously, he records every deed, every selfless, honorable act we’ve ever done, as well as every selfish, unkind word or act anyone has ever committed. He even keeps track of all those good deeds we could have done or meant to do, but never actually accomplished. With great relish, he keeps track of our every word and deed. Let me take you to his office where we can watch him work with his latest client, Mr. Everyman, or Mr. E.

As the door creaks open, we see Mr. B. seated behind an enormous, highly polished wooden desk. Mr. B. sits in his black leather chair, perched on the very edge, leaning toward Mr. E. who fidgets in the opposite chair. Wide open on the desk lays a gigantic ledger, its pages opened to the E’s.

“Ah, friend,” Mr. B. exclaims, “I see you shoveled snow off the sidewalk for the elderly widow in your neighborhood. That definitely earns a plus sign on your soul’s ledger.”

Mr. E. shifts in his chair and smiles tentatively, his chest rising slightly with pride in his good deed. A shadow of a sly smile creeps over Mr. B’s face and his eyes glitter with excitement. “But,” he exclaims triumphantly, “You failed to shovel last month, you only mowed her yard three times last summer, and you rarely visit her. That comes to four marks on the plus side, and…let me see…20 marks on the negative side. That makes your overall score a negative 16.”

Mr. E’s shoulders visibly slump, and his eyes drop to the tops of his shoes. “But I thought….”

“You thought!” interrupted Mr. B. “Let me remind you that I am the bookkeeper. I will let you know your score! At this point in your life, you are definitely in the red. You must try harder!”

“Yes, sir,” Mr. E. mumbles, “I will try harder to do good deeds. Honest, I will.” Slowly, he stands up, turns and shuffles out the door.

As the door closes, Mr. B. chuckles. “What a sap!” he says to himself. “He’ll be mine soon. Then he’ll pay dearly for what he owes!”

Many years later, Mr. E. once again enters Mr. B’s ornate office. Even though he is now elderly, he walks with a straight back and chin held high. Mr. E. sits in the guest chair and makes eye contact with Mr. B. Once again, the huge ledger lays open on the shiny desk. “Well, well, well,” Mr. B. says, examining the open book. “You have done many honorable deeds since we last met. Feeding the hungry…check…giving to the poor…check…volunteering at your local school…check….. Well, you’ve earned several hundred points on the plus side. “Now for the negative…you lost your temper…check…said a few bad words…harbored a grudge…didn’t forgive your neighbor…Hmm, it seems you have far more than one hundred checks on the negative side. That means you owe me—you are at a negative three hundred and sixty-three. Since your time on the earth is nearing its completion, it appears you will be in debt to me. But don’t worry, you have all eternity to pay off this debt.” As Mr. B. looked up from his ledger, a broad smile covered his face, but his eyes stared coldly at Mr. E.

Mr. E. sat straight in his chair, a slight smile playing about his lips. He shifted his weight in his chair and reached into his pocket, pulling out an official looking paper. “I believe you have made a mistake,” he simply said.

“What! How dare you question my bookkeeping!” shouted Mr. B. He stood up and lunged over the desk toward Mr. E., glaring at him. “You are mine; there is no mistake!”

“Oh, but there is a mistake. You see, I have a receipt. Here is a copy of it.” As he said this, he handed a small slip of paper to Mr. B.

“This is impossible!” sputtered Mr. B. as he read the neat printing on the tiny sheet of paper. “He can’t have paid your debt. You are mine!”

“Oh, but you are mistaken.” Mr. E. spoke his words quietly and calmly. He paid my debt many years ago. He willingly left his heavenly home to become a man. He willingly died a painful death on a cross, all to erase my debt. If you don’t believe me, just look.”

Mr. B. glanced down at his carefully written ledger. His face turned red, then even brighter red as he stared at the “E” page. Right before his eyes, every mark slowly erased itself until all had disappeared.

“You see,” said Mr. E. My ledger is clean. I owe you nothing. My soul is free of debt.

The printed words on the little slip of paper simply said, “Mr. E.’s debt—PAID IN FULL.” Signed, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pieces of the Puzzle

My sister-in-law is great at working jigsaw puzzles. She can recognize minute differences in shape and can work a puzzle row by row, from top to bottom and left to right. I am amazed by her skill. I, on the other hand, work puzzles the way I suspect most people do. First, I dump out all the pieces, turn them over, and match similar colors. I look carefully at the picture on the box, for without that I would be unable to piece the puzzle together. Sometimes I find several pieces in a row and make progress quickly, but at other times I don’t seem able to fit together a single piece. I study the pieces and I study the picture, trying to make some sense of it all. Eventually, I have an “aha! moment” and realize where a certain section goes or recognize my own misunderstanding about the big picture. After much hard work and effort, I am finally able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and can see the completed picture.

Isn’t life often like a big jigsaw puzzle? As we live we are able to find the border pieces and make some sense of the events of our lives. At times we are perplexed. Nothing seems to go right. Difficulties surround us, threatening to overwhelm us. We hardly know which way to turn; none of the pieces seem to fit together. That’s when we must look at the picture on the box. God, in his wisdom has given us a picture to follow when we are putting together the pieces of the puzzle of our lives. His holy word gives us guidelines on how to live our lives, enabling us to see the picture more clearly. His holy spirit also resides within us, telling us which pieces will fit with others, telling us how to make the picture whole. How often do we ignore his quiet voice and struggle to finish the picture, not finding the correct combination of pieces? Then we remember to keep our eyes on the picture. Without it we cannot complete the puzzle. God gives us guidance to make sense of our lives, to complete the picture, if we keep our eyes steadily focused on him. With God’s guidance we make progress, and the pieces fit together. But the picture will never be whole until we see Him face to face in heaven. Then and only then will the picture be whole, and only then will we have answers to our questions. When the puzzle is complete we will live in perfection with our almighty God.

Father in heaven, I thank You for your great wisdom, power, and knowledge. Forgive my feeble efforts to put together the pieces of the puzzle of my life; help me to completely trust You to complete the picture.

Psalm 139: 3-6 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First Kiss

Frost has kissed the forest. Many of the leaves and grasses have succumbed to its deadly touch. Yellow and brown leaves flutter from the trees. The stream is littered with autumn’s golden snowfall. As I wander off the soft, sandy trail, my feet crunch noisily through the leafy debris covering the forest floor. Looking up, I see many of the trees lifting dark, barren branches skyward. Others sport a few green and yellow leaves, but these too are destined to drop to the forest floor.

It’s silent on the forest floor. No birds call. No animals chatter to their mates. High above in the treetops the wind blows, rustling the remaining leaves. The rustling grows to a roar as the wind rushes past barren branches. So much around me seems dead, lifeless. Yet, I know the forest lives. As I walk I hear rustling in the dead leaves and know small animals run and hide from this human invading their territory. I stop a moment at the stream, listening to the rushing waters bouncing over the rocks. That sound always soothes my soul. I look at the brown grass and the barren trees around the stream and I imagine their roots digging deep into the soil. Above the soil they appear dead, yet their roots continue to draw nourishment into the living plants.

So it is with my soul. At times it becomes brown and looks lifeless. Life is difficult, and I struggle from an unresponsive spirit and lack of enthusiasm. But then I go to a still place and listen. Just like the wind rushes through the trees, God’s voice rushes through my soul, giving me peace. I listen. I learn. I allow the roots of my soul to draw up spiritual nourishment. I rejoice, waiting patiently for that first green blush of Spring to sprout in my soul.

Psalm 30:5b NIV Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

If I Could

If I could
I'd wipe your tears
And hang them up to dry.

If I could
I'd paint a smile,
Add sparkle in your eye.

If I could
I'd erase the pain,
Draw sunshine 'stead of rain.

If I could
I'd knit some fun,
Threads of sorrow all undone.

If I could
I'd draw her here
You'd see her face to face.

But all of this
Can only be done
By God's most heavenly grace.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Autumn Leaves

John 15L5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Tenaciously the last autumn leaves cling to the cottonwood tree. Like a thousand yellow butterflies they flutter. The dark branches stretch heavenward—a stark contrast to the leaden sky. Yet still the butterflies flutter, rustling in the breeze. They seem to be the only life in this mid-November sky.

I have become one of those tenacious butterfly leaves: fragile, fluttering in even the slightest breeze. By the thinnest of threads I cling to the tree. I am delicate, but the tree to which I cling is strong and long-lasting. Though it appears devoid of life as winter nears, its branches are thick. Its roots reach down deep into the rich soil, drawing up nutrients and water to sustain it over the winter. Only the tree can give life to the fluttering leaf.

The ground under this cottonwood tree is buried beneath its leaves. Once green and golden, high on the branches of the tree, they now lie matted to the earth, brown and brittle, one indistinguishable from another. As soon as they let go of the branches of the majestic tree, they flutter slowly downward, to certain death.

The tree has given the leaves life. They began as buds in the spring, and then leafed out greenly, giving glory to the tree. Their entire lives are spent on the tree; all their nourishment comes from its strength.

Christians are like the leaves on the tree. God, our maker, is the tree: strong, stable, giver of life. In the beginning of our spiritual lives we are small buds, barely discernable on the mighty tree. Next, in the spring of our spiritual lives, we shyly blush green, and begin to show a hint of His majesty for all to see. As we draw on his strength and wisdom, we slowly leaf out, giving glory to our maker. Later, our greenness deepens and matures, and His glory is evident to all who care to look. At times, the winds of our lives buffet us, but as long as we draw our sustenance from God, our spirits flourish in spite of, or because of, those storms. As long as we cling to our maker, all is well with our souls and our lives illustrate His glory.

As we grow and learn from the life-giving spirit to which we cling, we reach the autumn of our lives. Then we loudly and boldly proclaim the glories of our maker in new hues: yellow, red, orange, and rust. What a glorious God sustains us! Through bitter winter weather, He sustains us, as long as we cling to His nurturing branches. When, at last, it is time to leave this life, we let go, and flutter slowly to the ground where we rest beneath the everlasting arms of our Maker.

Oh God, no matter what my circumstances may be in life, may I always glorify you, for you are worthy to be praised!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Footprints in the Sand

We walk along the water’s edge, watching the foam from the waves rush up, attempting to capture the sand, then fall back to join the blue ocean water. Our heads down, we look in the sand for shells or coral unbroken by the battering waves. I stoop down to examine a piece of elkhorn coral broken from the reef 200 yards offshore. Scott has continued walking and I observe his footprints. Here at the water’s edge his foot sinks several inches into the soft, wet sand, leaving a deep impression. But only for a moment. Then the hungry waves rush onto the beach, carrying sand back with it into the waves. The deep imprints of his footprints instantly fade to a small indentation in the beach. Another wave sweeps ashore, totally obliterating his footprints. It’s as if he had never walked along this beach. Here for only a moment, his footprints are totally erased from the sandy beach.

The Bible reminds us that we are on this earth for but a moment, like flowers that wither and grass that fades away. This verse (I Peter 1:24) comes to mind as I watch the waves erase his footprints in the sand. Once we’ve gone from this earth our memories last for a time, but then are slowly washed away until new generations walk the sands of life, leaving their own brief footprints. I think about how I’ve spent my short time on this earth. Have I done anything of lasting significance? Have I lived my life so that it affects someone else for eternity? My time is fleeting. I must keep my eyes on the eternal, for the footprints quickly wash away.

Oh God, keep my eyes on the spiritual, eternal things of life. May the path I walk leave footprints to help others to know your eternal power, loving-kindness, and saving grace.