To Be a Clod

Amy Carmichael was one of Elisabeth Elliot’s heroes, and both women are heroes of mine.

Recently a newsletter from the Elisabeth Elliot Foundation closed with this poem by Amy Carmichael, which Elisabeth had quoted in one of her radio broadcasts:

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified;
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.

—Amy Carmichael

 I first read this poem as a young adult. I may have been in college or a newlywed when I first read Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton. I couldn’t help but be inspired by Amy’s fervor, courage, and determination to follow God wherever He led her. She became a missionary to India. It might be more correct to say she made India her home for the rest of her life.

There’s something about youth that is inherently passionate. Most young people have a burning desire to make their lives count, to make a difference, to further a cause bigger than themselves.

But after several decades, we tend to get more settled, don’t we?

Being settled isn’t always a bad thing. Though I continue to learn and grow, I am more settled in my convictions, less like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).

I’m more settled in my self-image. I’ve never been super-model material, but I am okay with that now.

I’m more settled in my marriage. After forty-three years, my husband and I know each other pretty well. We’ve worked out our differences and learned to complement (and compliment) each other. We still find plenty to talk about.

But I hope I never become settled in the sense of complacency in my faith and walk with God, to let “easy choices” of “silken self” give way to the “subtle love of softening things.” We can be more inclined to do so as our physical capacity begins to decline.

I’ve often wondered at Amy’s use of the word “clod” in the next-to-last line. After the beautiful phrasing in the rest of the poem, “clod” seems like a jolt, like stubbing your toe on a rock. I would guess Amy probably did that on purpose.

A quick look in the dictionary shows that a clod is a lump, usually of dirt or clay. But it’s also a term used for an oaf or dolt. Amy may have meant the word in the latter sense. But I like to think of it as a lump, especially since she spoke of sinking to be a clod.

I’m not a soil specialist; I am not even a gardener. But when I think of a clod, it seems like it has three possibilities for its future.

First, it could erode. Wind and rain could chip off tiny bits of it until nothing is left.

It could get harder due to the sun beating down on it while it just sits there.

Or it could be tilled, broken up into useful soil again.

The last thought brings to mind Hosea 10:12: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

The ways God has used me have changed over the years with age, health issues, life circumstances. I can’t (and don’t even desire to) do things I once did.

But that was true of Amy, too. After a fall, she became an invalid for the last twenty years of her life. How she ministered to others changed. But she still followed hard after God in her heart, met with people as she was able, wrote books, sent notes of encouragement to her coworkers and inhabitants of the orphanage and hospital on the Dohnavur complex.

Of course, age and declining abilities are not the only contributors to cloddishness. It’s easy at any age to settle into a cozy lump of inertia.

May God give us hearts soft and pliable to His leading and will rather than soft to comfort and pleasures.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

How Churches Can Help Visitors

In our four decades of marriage, we’ve been a member of six different churches and visited several others. Most of the time, a change in church has been made necessary due to my husband’s job sending us to a new state. A couple of times, we left for other reasons, but we don’t take leaving a church lightly. We like to find a church home and stay there as long as possible.

It’s amazing how intimidating it is to visit a new church, even for seasoned church attenders. I’m not sure why. We don’t expect anyone to throw stones or tomatoes or snub us. Though church styles vary, we have an idea what to expect. If it’s so unnerving for us to visit a new church, unchurched people are probably even more uncomfortable.

We’re currently searching for a new church home. I wanted to share just a few “stray thoughts” about our church visiting experiences while they are fresh in my mind.

First of all, I feel a church website is absolutely essential. In our case, we attend Baptist churches. If you search online for Baptist churches in Knoxville, you’ll find multiple pages of listings. I found one directory listing 25, but there are more. They all have basically the same statement of faith, so we’d agree on the most important core beliefs, like Jesus being the Son of God, salvation by grace through faith, the inspiration of the Bible, etc.

But churches with the same doctrinal base can vary greatly in personality and in secondary issues, like the following:

Traditional vs. contemporary style of service and music
“King James Only” or other Bible versions
Casual or formal
Continuationist or cessationist (referring to certain gifts of the Holy Spirit)
Reformed or not
Age-segregated or family-integrated
Songleader and choir vs. worship team
Premillennial, post-millennial, amillennial (referring to “end times”)

No one’s salvation is going to be in question on either side of these secondary issues. And there are some categories that we would be fine with on either side, though we might have a preference for one or the other. But others we feel more strongly about. We can grant that other believers have freedom of conscience to do something differently than we would, but we would have a hard time worshiping in a place where we disagreed with a lot.

So if we were to try to visit each of the list of 25 churches just once, that would take us 25 weeks—almost half a year. Normally we like to visit more than once, unless there’s something glaringly obvious during the first visit that would make us shy away. So we could spend more than a year visiting around. We’d like to find a church home in much less time.

It’s pretty standard now to look up a church’s web site before visiting. It’s helpful if the church’s site can tell us as much about the church as possible.

One church’s site said something like, “We don’t like labels. We just like to talk about Jesus.”

My husband’s father worked in a grocery store. He was allowed to bring home canned goods that had lost their labels, because customers would not buy them. If my mother-in-law was looking for tomato sauce, she might open cans of peaches, green beans, or SpaghettiOs before finding what she needed.

So labels do help. We would assume most Christian churches like to talk about Jesus. Anything they can share about the distinctives of their church will help visitors know if they want to investigate further or not. As my husband said, they might as well tell us what they are, because we’re going to find out eventually anyway. Some people are going to be looking for certain particulars while others are trying to avoid them. It saves everyone time if some of these things are spelled out up front.

Besides the statement of faith on a church website, we like to see times of services, some information about the pastor(s), a place to access past sermons or full church services (audio or video), information about the various ministries of the church. Some church sites have a “What to expect” or “How to prepare for your visit” page that might include style of dress (though most of them say anything is fine within reason), which door to go to, etc.

If a church has a Facebook page, it helps if the page contains more than just location and times of services. Many churches will put their services on Facebook, which helps. Some will put announcements or reminders. Some will have photos from recent events. All of that helps give potential visitors a feel for the church. Some churches will have a public Facebook page for potential visitors and a separate private page for members where they can share prayer requests or information that is not for the general public.

Then, once people do actually come to your church, appropriate signage is helpful, especially if you have multiple buildings or doors. Barring signs—or maybe in addition to signs—it’s nice to have someone available to answer questions about where the nursery, bathrooms, etc., are.

When we’ve been members, greeting new people has been one of the hardest things to do. But it’s essential. Once I get started, I am usually fine.

I could tell you multiple stories of odd greeting situations in churches, but that would take too long. I’ll share just one. In one church, no one spoke to us or even looked at us until their designated hand-shaking time (what my daughter-in-law calls “howdy time”). And then it was like some weird science fiction show where everyone came alive and became friendly while the music played. Then when the music stopped, everyone closed up again, not looking at or talking with us any more.

Some churches have a designated greeter at the door. Though that’s nice, those people shouldn’t be the only ones greeting newcomers.

On the other extreme, I read of a church that stationed an official greeter every 25 feet. That’s going too far the other way, unless you have a humongous church building.

It’s best just to sincerely and warmly say hello to people you don’t recognize, maybe “We’re so glad to have you.” If there is time, you could ask whether they just moved to the area, where they moved from, etc.

In our most recent visits, almost every church has had an older lady who has greeted us in just such a way, going beyond the perfunctory and obligatory greeting. They’ve been so genuinely interested and kind that I have felt, “If we stay here, she’s one I want to get to know.” I wanted to say that to encourage older people in general that, even though you may not be able to do all you once did, this seemingly minor act carries great weight.

Most visitors do not want to be made a spectacle or have attention drawn to themselves. Some churches will have new people stand up—one had visitors stay seated while everyone else stood for the hand-shaking time. Both scenarios are uncomfortable.

Some churches have had gift bags for visitors. I appreciate the thought, but gifts are not really necessary. One church had plastic cups that had the church’s name on the side. Because this church was a little aggressive about handing out gift bags, we ended up with six of those—that none of us wanted. They tried to give us more the next week, and we had to gently but firmly say no, thank you. Another had mugs with the church name, but also filled them with candy. A lot of churches will have pens with their name on the side that they hand out along with visitor’s cards to full out. The pens are a nice small reminder of the church. The one gift bag I most appreciated was from a particularly large church and had brochures about their various church ministries–what they did, when and where they met, who to contact for more information. And they had a few miniature candy bars, a plus. 🙂

Then during the church service, it helps to have what is expected made very clear–when to stand, join in the singing, etc. No one wants to stand out by doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. One church we visited was the first I’d attended with a worship team on stage. They had a choir as well. Sometimes everyone on stage was singing, sometimes just the small team in front. But no one told the congregation when it was their turn. I tried to figure out when I was supposed to sing by watching what others in the congregation did, but some sang and some didn’t. So I still didn’t know what to do. I ended up singing along very softly so I wouldn’t be noticed either way.

Sometimes you are as friendly as you know how to be in church, you’ve extended yourself, you’ve bent over backwards to meet everyone’s needs and wants, the singing has been great, the message has been biblically based and Spirit-filled–and visitors still don’t return. Have all your efforts been for naught? Have you failed?

No. You’ve ministered to people as unto the Lord. That “counts,” whether they become part of your church or not. Sometimes when we have chosen one church over another, it hasn’t been because of anything wrong with the one we didn’t choose. Sometimes there’s something indefinable about why we feel inclined more toward one church. But we appreciate the ways people have ministered to us when we’ve visited, and we hope to extend the same grace when we find a church home.

What are your thoughts? Are there other ways to make church visitors feel welcome—or at least less intimidated?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Be Your Own Unique Style of Grandparent

Be Your Own Unique Style of Grandparent

I’ve only been a grandparent for eight and a half years, and I only have one grandchild. So I am not an expert. I’m still learning how best to navigate this phase of life.

But one piece of advice I read in a forgotten source has stayed with me. The writer had a granddaughter whose other, wealthier grandmother loved to take the child shopping.

The writer’s budget was a little tighter, and she couldn’t afford many shopping forays. So she faced a dilemma when her granddaughter wanted to be taken shopping. This writer’s solution was to say, “Your other grandmother is the shopping grandma. I’m the baking grandma.” She and her granddaughter spent fun time in the kitchen.

I thought that was such a neat idea. We don’t have to compete with the child’s other grandparents or even parents. We don’t have to follow Pinterest or Instagram influencers, though we can learn from them. We can grandparent in our own unique style and way.

And we don’t even need to specialize in one area. I had hoped to be the reading grandma, but my grandson isn’t particularly interested in reading when he is here. Though we can share our interests, it’s best not to push them. It’s better to share their interests.

We’ve done a few crafty things together, colored, played games, baked cookies. But mostly I just want to be available to him, to listen to him, to let him know that his grandfather and I love him very much.

I only had two grandparents growing up. My father’s father died before I was born. My mother’s mother passed away when I was four, so I have only hazy memories of her.

My mother’s father was a big tease and had a distinctive laugh. My mom would sometimes make us kids coffee–really just a lot of sugar and milk with just a little coffee. But we felt so grown up when we drank it. When my grandfather saw us drinking our special brew, he would tease, “If you drink coffee, hair will grow on your chest.” My grandfather had a lot of “If-then” predictions, and I knew he was teasing–but I still checked sometimes just to be sure.

We lived with him for a few years when I was young. For a while, he drove me to a friend’s house in the mornings so I could ride to school with them (I assume everyone else’s work schedules didn’t allow them to take me). It seemed like every time we were in the car together, two songs always came on the radio: “Mairzy Doats” and “Mr. Lonely.” I can’t think of those songs without thinking of my grandfather.

When we moved to another city, he would come to visit and always brought Dunkin Donuts. No matter when I woke up in the mornings, I could hear him and my mom talking in the kitchen over a cup of coffee.

He married again, and I don’t remember much about his second wife. Not long after they married, she developed dementia. She was very dependent on him. Friends urged him to place her in what we would now call respite care so that he could go hunting with them, an activity he loved. When he came back, the facility she was in had her tied down in a chair (I assume because she tried to wander off, looking for him. Restraints like this are not allowed now). He said, “Never again,” brought her home, and cared for her the rest of his life. When she died, he lamented to my mom that he didn’t know why the good Lord gave him two good women and then took them away.

He was also heavily involved in the Boy Scouts, and we used to visit their Jamboree every year and see him.

My father’s mother had kids in Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama, and she divided her time among them. The “Galloping Gourmet” was a thing then, and we called my grandmother the “galloping grandma” due to her many travels around the Gulf coast.

For a couple of summers, I got to travel with her to visit relatives. I enjoyed the time with her as well as getting to know aunts and uncles and cousins I didn’t see often otherwise.

When she lived nearby, she often had me over to spend the night. She loved to read, and one of my favorite memories is of us sitting up in separate twin beds in her room, reading before bedtime.

She loved to crochet. Almost any time she was sitting still, she was working on a crochet project. I especially liked the trim she crocheted around doilies and handkerchiefs. I never did learn crochet, but I like to think my love of crafts and needle arts was inspired by her. She and my aunt also made clothes for me in my childhood.

I don’t recall that she had a garden, but her sister, my aunt Jewel, had a large one. They loved fresh vegetables.

When my grandmother was away, she would write me letters. My first forays into writing consisted of composing letters to her. We wrote back and forth all her life.

She could be a little harsh in her discipline. But we knew that she loved us.

I don’t remember either of my grandparents giving me direct spiritual instruction. But I knew they both loved God in their own way. My grandfather and aunt took me to the Lutheran church in my earliest years, and I think he was responsible for my attending a Lutheran school in first and second grade. When I was with my grandmother, it was understood that we’d be attending her Baptist church. Their faith shaped their morals, values, and conversation.

I look forward to making memories with my grandson, Timothy. But most of all, I hope I can have the same influence as the biblical Timothy’s grandmother had on him. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5). Later, Paul admonished Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

God gives grandparents responsibility to pass his truth along to the next generation:

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:9).

One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness (Psalm 145:4-7).

They say that most of what we teach our children is “caught” rather than “taught.” I think that’s probably especially true of grandchildren. We won’t have as much directly instructive time with them as their parents do. But hopefully, through our love, our lives, our testimony, and our words, we can have a great influence on them for God. That’s my prayer.

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come (Psalm 71:17-18).

Psalm 71:17-18

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

What Does God Want Us to Continue?

There is something exciting about a bright, shiny, new beginning, isn’t there? A new project, a new start, a new book, a new year, a new routine. Whatever happened before, we can start fresh.

Perhaps that’s the appeal of New Year’s resolutions, even though most people confess to not keeping them or even making them even more.

Granted, we all need to make time to take stock, to adjust our routines, to see what needs to change—whether we do that on Jan. 1 or some other time.

But sometimes we need to set our faces and purposes once again to continue something we’ve already started, to stay the course, to keep going.

A few weeks ago, the pastor of the church we were visiting spoke from Colossians. I happened to notice the word “continue” in a couple of places in the book, which brought to mind a couple of other verses that used the word. I looked into the word more after I got home and then again last week.

What does God want us to continue?

Fearing the Lord: Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day (Proverbs 23:17, ESV).

Being in His Word:If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed (John 8:31, KJV; ESV says “abide”).

In His love: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love (John 15:9, KJV, ESV says “abide”).

Gathering with other believers to pray, fellowship, learn doctrine: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren . . . And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 1:14; 2:42, KJV; ESV has “devoting themselves.” Though this is not a command here, it is in Hebrews 10:25).

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, ESV).

Speaking His Word with boldness: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29, ESV).

In His grace: “And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43, ESV; also “continue” in the KJV).

In the faith: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, ESV; also “continue” in the KJV).

“If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23, ESV; same in KJV).

In His kindness: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22, ESV; also “continue” in the KJV).

In prayer: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2, ESV; also in KJV).

In what you have learned and believed: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV; also in KJV).

Continue in doctrine: Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16, KJV; ESV, “persist”).).

In brotherly love: “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1, ESV; also in KJV).

In the perfect law of liberty: “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25, NKJV; “perseveres” in the ESV).

Though this same concept may be displayed in other words (abide, dwell), these passages give us plenty to think about for the moment, don’t they?

With all the excitement of the new, let’s not forget the foundation and steadiness of the old.

Mac Lynch wrote a beautiful song incorporating the words of 2 Timothy 3:14: “Continue thou in the things thou hast learned.” He wrote this when he was the music director at The Wilds Christian Camp. I don’t know if this is how the song was used, but I can imagine it being sung the last night of camp week, urging campers to continue on with the Lord, not to make decisions at camp and then forget them when back in their regular worlds. I know it won’t be familiar to most of you, but I hope you’ll give it a listen and be blessed and encouraged by it:

And of course, the only way to continue these things is if we had at one time begun them. If you haven’t, this as as good a day as any to do so. Especially if you don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, I invite you to learn more here.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Everyday Hallelujahs

Last Sunday, as I set the table for breakfast, the music I was listening to on BBN Radio transitioned to the “Hallelujah chorus” from Handel’s magnificent oratorio, The Messiah.

Just a couple of weeks before, we had attended a Christmas concert in which the “Hallelujah chorus” was performed. The audience stood as one when the first notes were played, a tradition said to have begun with King George on his very first hearing of this tribute to the King of kings.

So in my kitchen, I almost felt like I should pause at attention while the chorus played. Was it disrespectful, even sacrilegious, to keep placing silverware and stirring eggs while such praise to God played in the background?

There will come a time when all other endeavors will cease and everyone will praise the King.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12).

I can only imagine what a glorious day that will be. We get a little foretaste of it now in church, when we lay aside our ordinary pursuits of the week to gather with God’s people and sing His praises together.

But worship isn’t just for Sundays or public gatherings. We don’t acknowledge God on Sundays and then go back to our regular work without giving Him any more thought.

We can worship Him in everything we do because He is with us and has given us all we have.

I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:8-9, 11).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

God reigns over creation and nations. But He also reigns over homes and kitchens. We don’t have to wait til heaven or even Sunday to praise Him. We can raise our hallelujahs for everyday blessings as well as the major events of life, in joy as well as trouble and sorrow.

So I continued folding napkins, setting out condiments, flipping over the hash browns, and pulling out the crescent rolls while singing in my heart.

The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!

He shall reign for ever and ever!

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

The scene is in the upper room, where Jesus met with His disciples to observe the Passover. He washed their feet as an example of humble serving. He instituted what we call the Lord’s supper. He predicted that one of them will betray Him. He gave them a new commandment, to love each other as He loved them.

And now He tells them He is about to leave them.

Peter, almost always the first one to speak up, wants to know where Jesus is going and why they can’t follow. He pledges to lay down his life for Christ.

And then Jesus stuns Peter by predicting Peter will deny Him—not once, but three times.

In John’s narrative, it looks like immediately after this exchange, Jesus goes on to some of His final teaching before He is betrayed and arrested. John is the only gospel-writer to record this extended discourse.

The disciples only know part of what’s coming: that Jesus is leaving, and that at some point persecution will come. Peter is told that he will spectacularly fail. None of them knows that Jesus is about to be arrested that very night and die the next day. But Jesus knew they needed comfort, hope, and strength for what was ahead.

Jesus opens and closes these words with the phrase, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, 27). I had never realized before this reading that Jesus said it twice or that He said it right after predicting Peter’s denial.

In Warren Wiersbe’s book, Be Transformed (John 13-21: Christ’s Triumph Means Your Transformation), he brings out six truths Jesus shared with His disciples at this time:

They are going to heaven (13:36-14:6). Not immediately, but someday they will follow Him to the place He went ahead to prepare.

They know the Father now (14:7-11). Wiersbe points out that “the word Father is used fifty-three times in John 13-17.” Heaven is “my Father’s house.” “Jesus said that knowing Him and seeing Him was the same as knowing and seeing the Father. He was claiming to be God.” Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). They could trust in the Father’s loving care.

They have the privilege of prayer (14:12-15). “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13). Wiersbe notes:

The “whatsoever” in John 14: 13 is qualified by all that God has revealed in His Word about prayer; likewise, the “anything” in John 14:14. God is not giving us carte blanche; “in My name” is the controlling element. To know God’s name means to know His nature, what He is, and what He wants to do. God answers prayer in order to honor His name; therefore, prayer must be in His will (1 John 5:14–15). The first request in “the Lord’s Prayer” is, “Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). Any request that does not glorify God’s name should not be asked in His name (Location 587).

They have the Holy Spirit (14:16-18). In God’s plan, the Holy Spirit would come to minister to God’s people in a special way when Jesus went back to heaven. He’s called the Helper and the Comforter. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26).

They enjoy the Father’s love (14:19-24). Our love for Him will be manifested by keeping His Word.

They have the gift of His peace (14:25-31). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (v. 27).

Though our circumstances are different, there is much in the world that could trouble us. The world has never been a friend of God, but it seems to be going further away from Him. Those who know God in Western society have had many privileges the last several decades, but those are fading fast. Christianity is not popular these days. Christ foretold a variety of bad things that would happen before the end.

And besides the large-scale issues, we face rising prices, discord in our country, new diseases, and physical issues.

And, like Peter, sometimes our personal failures haunt us.

Yet God has given us the same resources He gave the first disciples, hasn’t He? We have a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has prepared a place in heaven for us to look forward to. Meanwhile, we have the Father’s love, care, forgiveness, and grace, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit’s help, comfort, and guidance, and the peace of Jesus that overcomes the world.

Truly we have every reason to “let not our hearts be troubled,” no matter what comes our way in the future.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

The Savior of the World Is Here

Over 2,000 years ago, Gaius Octavian became the Caesar of the Roman Empire. According to Stephen Davey, “for the first time in the four hundred year old kingdom of Rome, the Roman senate voted to give Caesar Octavian the title of Augustus. Augustus meant ‘revered or holy,’ and, until this time, it had been a title reserved exclusively for the gods.” One inscription referred to him as “the savior of the world.”

But during his time on earth, another baby was born to whom that title rightly belonged.

Which of the two would the world believe to be the real Savior? By birth, wealth, fame, and position, most people would have gone with Augustus. How could an unknown baby born to poor parents in Bethlehem claim that title?

But John wrote, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).

Many books could be written and verses shared about how Jesus is the true Son of God and Savior. He claimed those positions for Himself, they were foretold by numerous prophets, His Father testified to them as well as many others.

But though He died to save the world, only those who believe on Him come to know Him as Savior for themselves.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:14-18).

If you don’t know Jesus as your own personal Savior, I pray you will believe on Him today.

I wish you all a wonderful, meaningful, joyful Christmas.

I have never heard this song sung at Christmas, but it could be!

I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wand’rers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
When Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and labored,
And so the Savior, Savior of the world, is come.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Savior, Savior of the world, is here.

I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
How He will claim His earthly heritage,
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
And He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendor
When He the Savior, Savior of the world, is known.

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubilation
When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
At last the Savior, Savior of the world, is King.

–W. Y. Fullerton, 1920

_____
Thanks to Stephen Davey for inspiring these thoughts in his radio message from December 15, The Inside Story.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Why Did Jesus Come as a Baby?

“Often in the account of salvation history, the future of God’s plan rests with a baby or a child.” (1).

“In Bible history, very often the birth of a baby has made the difference between defeat and victory for God’s people” (2)

In one sense, every baby born represents a new beginning with potential and hope for the future. But sometimes a baby was a major turning point in Bible history.

The first child born on earth, Cain, killed his brother, Able. Cain was exiled, but God sent Adam and Eve another son, Seth.

God had made a historic covenant with Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:14-17) or the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). In him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). But Abraham had no child with Sarah, his wife, for about 25 years after the promise was made. Finally Isaac, the child of promise, was born.

When God’s people were captive in Egypt, Pharaoh demanded that all the Jewish baby boys be killed. But “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23). Moses grew up to be the deliverer of his people: God used him to bear witness to Egypt through the plagues, to lead Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land, and to give them God’s law.

In another low point in Israel’s history, when injustice was running rampant, one desperate woman prayed for a child that she promised she would give back to the Lord. God gave her Samuel, who was the pivot between the time of the judges and the kings and who called his people back to worship and serve the one true God.

A bitter woman named Naomi had lost her husband and both sons. Now she was alone with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. But God raised up a godly man to marry Ruth and give Naomi a grandson—a grandson whose grandson would be David, the great king of Israel, a man after God’s own heart.

God had promised that the Messiah would come through David’s line. But wicked queen Athaliah killed all the king’s sons—she thought. Jehosheba, the aunt of little Joash, hid him away with a nurse until he could be made king and carry on the Davidic line.

Malachi ends the Old Testament with a promise that God would “send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (4:5-6). Then there were 400 years of silence. And suddenly one day, an old, childless priest was startled by an angel’s visit announcing that he and his aged wife, after many long years of now-abandoned prayers, would have a baby who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:16-17).

And then, in yet another low point in the history of God’s people, when they were under the Rome’s rule, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Why did God send His Son to earth as a baby? I don’t know all the reasons. But here are a few:

To be the Son of Man But he took on our flesh that he might be Son of Man as well as the Son of God.

To defeat death. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

To be made like His brethren (Hebrews 2:17a).

To become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God (Hebrews 2:17b).

To make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17c), To take our sin and punishment on Himself to atone for our sins.

To help those who are being tempted “because he himself has suffered when tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

Those things explain why He took on flesh. But why as a baby? Partly so that He could live a whole righteous life in our place. But perhaps Charles Spurgeon is on to another reason when he says, “We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. Never could there be a more approachable being than Christ.” (3)

“The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies” (4). Especially this baby.

____________
1. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Distinct (2 Kings & 2 Chronicles): Standing Firmly Against the World’s Tides, p. 224.

2. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Basic (Genesis 1-11): Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word, p. 94.

3. Charles Spurgeon, Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent.

4. Dr. E. T. Sullivan as quoted in Warren Wiersbe, Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let the World Know That Jesus Cares, p. 26.

Thanks to Dr. Wiersbe for emphasizing God’s use of babies in so many of his commentaries and whose thoughts inspired mine.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

God Does Not Forget Prayers or Promises

400 years of silence.

That’s what Israel experienced after the last words of the Old Testament in Malachi. They had the law of Moses, their history, the poetry and wisdom of the psalms and Solomon’s writings, and the prophetical books.

But they had heard no new word from the Lord in 400 years.

So we can understand Zechariah’s being startled when suddenly an angel appeared before him.

After so long a time of silence, the first message God sends through an angel is, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”

Though I’ve read this passage many times, I was focused on the larger context of how it fit in the birth story of Jesus. I must have glossed over the part about answered prayer. Which prayer? Well, from the angel’s continued message, the prayer about a child.

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”

We can forgive Zechariah for being stunned. He replied, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Zechariah had probably long ago given up on those prayers and counted God’s answer as a resounding “No.” And now—at this time, at their ages, they were going to have a baby?

As He so often does, God didn’t answer Zechariah’s “How?” He answered with “Who?”

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”

God had sent this good news.

And the news wasn’t just good for Zechariah and Elizabeth. This baby would later become known as John the Baptist.

And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared (Luke 1:14-17).

Gabriel told Zechariah that because the latter did not believe, he would be mute until the promise was fulfilled.

Hannah Anderson suggests that “perhaps God’s reproof was not a punishment for Zechariah so much as an invitation to experience his strength in a way that only happened in weakness. Perhaps God’s ‘now listen’ was not silencing Zechariah so much as quieting him, quieting him long enough to restore his hope” (Heaven and Nature Sing, p. 33).

When Elizabeth did give birth, and neighbors clamored to know the baby’s name, she said “John.” The people were astonished because no one else in their family was known by this name. They appealed to Zechariah, who confirmed by writing, “His name is John,” as the angel had instructed. John, meaning “God is gracious.”

And immediately [Zechariah’s] mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God” Luke 1:64).

He acknowledged this child would not just bring joy to his and Elizabeth’s life, but he was a part in God’s grand plan of salvation, put in place before the beginning of the world.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:76-79).

Though God sometimes seems silent, He hears and He cares. And though He answers the immediate concern, He has the larger, longer picture in mind. Besides praying for a child, Zechariah had probably also been praying for the coming of the Messiah. Now their child would have a part in God’s grand plan of redemption. It was John the Baptist who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) and prepared the way of the Lord.

God had not forgotten His promises then, and He still hasn’t now. He might say “No” or “Not now” when those answers are best. Sometimes the answer to our prayer request is connected to God’s overarching purpose for others as well. When the time is right, He will answer.

(Top photo courtesy of http://www.LumoProject.com.)

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

The Meekness of Wisdom

“Don’t try to fix it! Just listen.”

Sometimes we just want people to listen and sympathize. We may even know what to do about our problem, but we just want to be heard.

Sometimes we resent “fixers” because they haven’t taken the time to listen first. They start spouting solutions before they even know what the problem is. James warns us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Proverbs 18:13 tells us “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

Sometimes people with a lot of knowledge come across as arrogant know-it-alls. Some of them just want to show off or one-up their listeners. James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:14-16).

By contrast, James says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

That phrase, the meekness of wisdom, stood out to me. Meekness is not wishy-washy weakness. Moses was called the meekest man on the earth in his day (Numbers 12:3). Yet he faced down Pharaoh, led thousands of people out of Egypt, spent 40 days and nights alone with God when others were afraid to approach Him. Jesus said He was “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-30). Meekness is strength under control.

Galatians talks about restoring a fallen brother or sister in Christ “in a spirit of gentleness” (6:1-3). And Paul tells Timothy “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24).

A truly wise man knows the answer and can give good counsel. But he doesn’t share it in pride or superiority. James goes on to say this wisdom is “from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (verse 17).

A few weeks ago in our writing critique group, one member’s piece was on the way men and women think differently. One of the ladies mentioned this video, a hilarious depiction of someone with an obvious and easily repairable problem who wants her hearer to listen and not rush to “fix” it.

When I posted a link to this on my Saturday “Laudable Linkage” a couple of weeks ago, one commenter shared that someone she loved recently accused her of “fixing” instead of listening. She lamented her inclination to want to change others instead of examining her own motives.

While it’s true we need to listen first and not rush in to tell others what to do, the opposite of the coin is true as well. When we have an obvious problem and someone offers a workable solution, how wise is it to rebuff them just because we’d rather wallow in “venting” than finding an answer? The meekness of wisdom can apply to receiving as well as giving wisdom.

Proverbs is full of references about listening to wisdom, instruction, and even reproof. Just one example: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Fools don’t listen to advice, but wise men do.

The prophets lamented that people would not listen to their wise counsel. Jeremiah said, “the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets” (Jeremiah 25:3-4).

God told Ezekiel that people would regard him “like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it” (Ezekiel 33:31-32). What God had given Ezekiel to say in the previous verses was not beautiful music–it was a stern warning of judgment to come for their sins. Yet because the people would not listen and obey, they deceived themselves about the nature of what Ezekiel said.

By contrast, Moses accepted wise–and unasked for–advice from his father-in-law, Jethro, when Jethro saw that Moses was being worn out and needed assistants (Exodus 18).

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5). Wisdom says in Proverbs 8:33-34, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.”

Sometimes silence is indeed the wisest option. Sometimes people just need to know they are cared for, heard, and not alone. We need to listen with sensitivity and empathy and offer counsel in dependence on God’s guidance. And we need to receive good counsel prayerfully, humbly, and gratefully, testing it against Scripture. We need meekness both to give and receive wisdom.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)