With Jesus in the Kitchen

I don’t consider myself the best of cooks even under normal circumstances. But making meals for others can be a special cause of tension. We want to share our best when we cook for others, whether we’ve invited them into our home or we’re taking a meal to share.

I’ve learned the hard way not to get too ambitious under those circumstances. Experiments often go wrong the first time. So I usually make something simple, tried and true.

Several months ago, before the pandemic, I was getting ready for our church potluck dinner. I don’t even remember what I was making. But it was something I had made before for church. It should have come together easily. Yet it wasn’t, for some reason.

As I scrambled around trying to decide whether to fix it (and how) or come up with Plan B, the verse about Jesus being tempted in all points like we are crossed my mind. Irritably, I thought, “When did He ever have to make a potluck dinner?”

Then I remembered the feeding of the 5,000.

And I was pulled up short.

It wasn’t a potluck dinner, but it was one of the biggest crowds ever served, especially by one man.

Of course, Jesus could take care of a meal for such a crowd in ways that we can’t. The whole point of this incident was to show His deity by way of His supernatural ability. Jesus brought this occurrence up later in conversations with the disciples to remind them: don’t worry about your needs. I will take care of you.

One thing I notice about Jesus’s ministry is that He was never frazzled or flustered. Yes, He was God. He knew how things would turn out. But He walked in faith, knowing that His Father would meet His needs.

I’ve always empathized with Martha, “cumbered about much serving” (Luke 10:38-42). Other translations say “distracted,” a couple say “busy.” But I love the feel of that old word, cumbered. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary, who was listening to Jesus, needed to come and help her. Instead, Jesus pointed out that Martha was “careful and troubled.” (Other translations say “worried and upset.” One says “bothered.”) He told Martha, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Obviously, listening to Jesus is more important than fussing over dinner. But I’ve often wondered—what should Martha have done about dinner, then? Wait until Jesus was done teaching? Probably. Have something simple and quick like peanut butter sandwiches (or the first-century Israeli equivalent)? Maybe. But above all else, just don’t worry about it. Many times Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they were going to eat or drink.

Does this mean it’s wrong to prepare an elaborate meal? No. Some people are gifted that way. We can enjoy their gifts without feeling we have to match them. Sometimes even those of us who aren’t as talented in the kitchen like to try to do something fancy.

But the point is to do whatever we do with a peaceful heart. I learned a long time ago that my husband would much rather have a simple meal than one that stresses me out to prepare.

On a practical level, these things help me:

  • Do as much ahead of time as possible.
  • If one dish takes a lot of time or labor, make the other dishes simple or store-bought.
  • Enlist help, either from the family or guests. People often ask if they can bring anything. Take them up on their offer.
  • If possible, don’t plan time-consuming or new meals during weeks when you have a lot of other things going on.
  • Keep a few recipes or meal ideas on file that consistently turn out well for potlucks or company.
  • Keep a few key ingredients for quick meals on hand for unexpected company or for a “Plan B’ when things don’t go well.

Here are some principles I’ve gleaned over the years:

Watch out for pride. It’s not wrong to want to make food other people will like. But sometimes I notice a subtle pride entering even preparation for a church potluck, a desire for my dish to be noticed, praised, and above all else, eaten. For many years I did not want to bring something store-bought to a church fellowship, until I realized that stemmed from pride. If my kitchen stress stems from wanting to protect my reputation, my emphasis is in the wrong place.

Keep first things first. As Jesus said, Mary chose the better part by listening to Him. Jesus said in another place, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). There have been times when I was so exhausted and stressed getting ready for guests that I just didn’t have anything left when they finally came. My priorities were out of kilter.

Serve God from worship, not in place of worship. The first pastor we had after we were married, Jesse Boyd, used to say:

Worship without service is a hollow farce.
Service without worship is a hectic fervor.
But worship which issues in service is a holy force.

When I am filled with “hectic fervor,” I need to do a heart check.

Be prepared. In a passage about counting the cost of discipleship, Jesus speaks of a man planning to build a tower or a king planning to go to war (Luke 14:25-33). First they sit down, assess what they have, and make plans. Some of my most frustrating meal preparations have been when I didn’t plan well. I forgot a key ingredient or a step in the process or didn’t plan for the time needed for part of the process.

Trust His sufficiency. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Sometimes I shorten that to “all grace, all sufficiency, all things, all times.” In another area of domestic need, I have sometimes prayed over buttonholes or difficult parts of sewing. When we’re getting ready for company, I pray for efficiency and peace of heart as I prepare.

Remember the point of fellowship and hospitality. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Though providing food is important, the main purpose for a meal with others is to fellowship with them and minister to them, to meet their needs rather than show off my skills.

The last stanza of a poem “The Kitchen Prayer” expresses my heart and reminds me to do everything I do—even prepare meals for others—as unto Him.

Warm all the kitchen with Thy love
And light it with Thy peace;
Forgive me all my worrying,
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food,
In room or by the sea,
Accept this service that I do–
I do it unto Thee.

Klara C. Munkres

What are some of your tips for serving others?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

What Are You Looking For?

What are you looking for as you go through life?

Peace?

Love?

Justice?

A good time?

Happiness?

We might find those in some measure. Some of them are God’s good gifts. Some are a foretaste of heaven.

But none will be perfect. This world is fraught with strife, selfishness, conflict.

And such characteristics are not just out there. They’re in our hearts as well.

Whatever troubles or pleases us about this life, none of it will last. Peter says some day “the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10b).

If we’ve staked all our hopes and dreams on this earth, we’ll be in trouble.

Since this earth won’t last forever, what should we do? Peter goes on to say, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11-14, NKJV).

Others passages echo this truth:

For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Philippians 3:20-21, KJV).

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14, NKJV).

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28, KJV).

Other translations say “wait for” instead of “look for,” but the Greek definitions can be translated either way. We wait with expectation, with eagerness, looking for Him.

Only with Him will we find perfection. Only in heaven will there be no sin, no sorrow, no crying, no pain–none of the negative things that taint life here.

Is this just escapism from reality? No, it’s arriving at reality. We look forward to our true reality, our true home. C. S. Lewis called this life the Shadowlands. In The Last Battle, when the children and animals realize they’re in a new Narnia, the Unicorn says:

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it til now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.

Aslan told the children, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

It was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now, at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Elisabeth Elliot has quoted George MacDonald as saying, “If you knew what God knows about death, you would clap your listless hands.” I remember reading somewhere that one reason God doesn’t tell us much about heaven is that we would look forward to it so much, we wouldn’t be able to get anything else done here.

I admit, there’s much I still enjoy and look forward to in this life. There’s much I’d like to do. One of the most important things I desire is to be a positive influence in my grandson’s life, and hopefully, at some point, in the lives of future grandchildren. God has given us a strong survival instinct. One preacher once said that one reason our bodies start falling apart as we get older is to ready us to let loose of them. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

I need the reminder that this life isn’t all there is. Imagine a rope stretched out east and west farther than we can follow, and let it represent eternity. The piece of the rope in front of us is taped off for a few inches. That taped part would represent the whole of life on earth for all time compared to eternity. Time is short. Eternity is long.

But before we look for Him to take us there, we have to look for Him here. Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV) says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” If you don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus, if you’re not sure of heaven, please read here.

We enjoy God’s blessing here. But we know this world isn’t all there is. Like Abraham, we “[look] forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Are you looking for Him?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Giving and Receiving God’s Word

I was surprised recently to read of someone offering their support and sympathy but promising not to share Bible verses.

My first thought was, “Isn’t the Bible our main source of comfort?” Human comfort helps, but it only goes so far.

I think I know what the person meant, though. Sometimes it’s easy to pat someone on the back, quote Romans 8:28, and go on our merry way. That’s like the spiritual version of what James says about physical needs: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). We’re instructed to be quick to hear and slow to speak, to weep with those who weep, to suffer with others in the body of Christ who suffer. We’re to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). We need to enter in to someone else’s pain rather than just offer them a bandage.

We also need to discern whether others are ready to hear. God had Elijah eat and sleep before talking with him. Nathan told David a story before confronting him with his gross sin. Jesus once told the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

Once one of my coworkers suffered a miscarriage. This young woman was not a Christian. She told our manager that she didn’t want anyone to say anything about her situation when she returned to work. But one of the other ladies, a Christian, made it a point to speak to her about her miscarriage on her first day back. I don’t know what was said or how it was received. But it seemed unwise not to give this woman the time she asked for.

Someone has said that Job’s friends did more for him when they sat in silence than when they began to advise him. Sometimes a sorrow is so deep or so new, we should just express sympathy and share our presence and support. Pat answers and cliches don’t help.

Sometimes, too, when the person we want to comfort is a mature Christian, we can’t tell them anything they don’t already know. They know how to seek the Scriptures and lay their hearts bare before the Lord. That doesn’t mean we should never say anything comforting to them from the Word, but we just need to be led by the Spirit and not by our need to “say something” or “fix” the situation.

We need wisdom, grace, discernment, and the Holy Spirit’s leading when we share God’s Word with people. Job’s friends were sure that Job was suffering because he sinned. Since God said Job had not sinned, all his friends’ counsel was misapplied. In fact, Job called them miserable comforters.

But I have known what is it, as I am sure you have, to have someone share “a word spoken in due season.” When my mother passed away, someone shared in a card the verse that shaped my prayers for that time: “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, KJV). Often someone has shared a verse or sometimes just a thought or principle from the Bible at just the right time for whatever I was dealing with at the moment. That’s the kind of comforter and encourager I want to be. That can only come from walking closely with the Lord and spending time in God’s Word so the Holy Spirit can bring to mind what He wants us to share.

On the other side of this coin, though, as one receiving comfort or instruction, aren’t there times we just don’t want to hear it? Sometimes that’s because it’s coming from someone who hasn’t taken the time to really listen and enter in to the situation. But sometimes it’s due to other causes.

Sometimes we don’t want to hear because of our flesh. When you’re reaching for your third donut, you don’t want to hear about self-control. When you want to lash out at someone, you don’t want to hear verses about forbearing and forgiving. I’ve often prayed that God would help me look for the way to escape temptation that He promised rather than looking for an excuse to indulge.

Sometimes we don’t want to give up our pain because we want the person who caused it to suffer. Sometimes we might even be mad at God for what He allowed.

Sometimes we might not want to hear truth because we’re feeling a little dull or distracted spiritually.

The times when we least want to hear God’s Word are the times we most need it. A verse I like to pray in those times is Psalm 119:36: “Incline my heart to your testimonies.”

The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to revive us.

  • Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
  • “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Psalm 119:50).
  • “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” (Psalm 119:93).

We’re still responsible for the truth we hear and read, even if the person sharing it isn’t doing so in the best way or time. Sometimes we just have to extend grace and ask God to minister to our hearts.

May God give us eager “ears to hear” His Word and make us gracious and sensitive encouragers.

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

Is It Wrong to Be Right?

One memorable time, as I was making teriyaki, I browned the strips of beef and added all the spices and ingredients called for. The last step was adding cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

However, I accidentally grabbed baking soda instead of cornstarch. My sauce erupted like a science fair volcano.

I poured out the sauce, rinsed out the pan, and added new ingredients to the beef. But enough baking soda had seeped into the meat that the whole dish was too tainted to eat. We drank water for hours trying to wash the taste out of our mouths.

What’s worse, the memory of that sauce was so strong that my husband couldn’t eat teriyaki any more. Even if everything came out right, teriyaki triggered the bad taste of the ruined version.

***

Recently I’ve see a lot of memes or quotes about how much better it is be to nice than to be right.

I think I know what some mean by this. Some people are passionate about every little thing; others insist that everything be done exactly their way. But there are issues in life not worth arguing over: which way the toilet paper goes on the roll, how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, etc. It’s better to overlook some things than to constantly fuss about them. The relationship is more important than one or the other being “right.”

But in some cases, being right is essential. The wrong ingredient can ruin dinner but make for a funny story later. But some wrongs are more painful. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can severely damage a relationship. Playing the wrong note will jar rather than please one’s listeners.

And sometimes being wrong can be deadly: the wrong medicine, the wrong diagnosis, the wrong step.

No amount of being nice can make up for being wrong in some instances.

Lately I have even seen this sentiment in regard to the Bible. True, many Christians take Judes’ admonition to contend for the faith to mean being contentious about everything. We’ve seen awful displays this last year of assigning wrong motives and vitriolic name-calling over issues where Christians should have been forbearing and given each other grace over differing opinions. Some wield truth like a club and forget the admonition that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). It’s God who grants repentance through His Word and His Spirit, not our hammering.

Notice that Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to be nice instead of being right. He tells him to teach, be patient, correct, yes, but with gentleness. Both epistles from Paul to Timothy are full of instructions about right doctrine and conduct.

In fact, almost every book of the Bible warns against false doctrine or shows examples of people following the wrong way.

Yes, there are issues in the Bible good people can differ over. But there are other issues where we can seriously go astray and lead others with us if we’re wrong. If we don’t know God as He truly is, we create a false god in our image.

I saw an article recently where someone spoke of not worrying about getting everything right in their Bible reading, but instead looking for meaning for one’s personal life.

But how can we find meaning if we’re off on what we think the Bible says? Jesus said “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, emphasis mine).

Isaiah spoke of those “who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right” (48:1).

True, the Pharisees spent a lot of time studying the scriptures and dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s just right. But for all their study, they missed the truth. Their error wasn’t in studying the Scripture but in adding to the word of God and teaching their own doctrines rather than His.

We do have to be careful not to fall into a merely academic approach to the Bible. But we don’t have to set up a false dichotomy between right study and meaning and application. Or between being nice versus being right. Paul urges Timothy to be an unashamed worker “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Sometimes the call for truth can be stern in the Bible. Sometimes you can’t warn people of danger in a quiet voice. When one of my sons was little and toddled toward a busy street, I didn’t say, “Honey, please come back. The street is too dangerous.” I yelled and ran and snatched him up just before he stepped onto the road. I probably scared him to death. I was pretty shaken, myself.

Paul told the Galatians, “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Did Paul say that because he was opinionated and intolerant in his religious views? No, he knew the truth and he knew the danger of a false gospel.

May God give us grace to know Him for who He is, to know His Word, to continue to study it depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance, to grow in knowing Him, to know where to draw lines and where to show forbearance, to speak boldly and truthfully but as kindly as possible.

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

Faith, not Genes, Determines our Standing Before God

If you’ve ever read the books of Numbers, you might remember one of the most dramatic sections occurs with the rebellion of Korah.

The congregation had just received the devastating news that, in response to their failure to believe God and enter the promised land, all the rebellious adults (who had been rebelling and complaining since they left Egypt) were going to die in the wilderness over the next forty years (Numbers 13-14). God was going to give the land to their children instead of them.

After this, God gave them instructions about sacrifices that they were to implement, not in the wilderness, but when they came into the promised land. Why would God give them such instructions now, when they just found out they weren’t going to get to the land for forty years? The ESV Study Bible notes point out that some of the materials mentioned wouldn’t be available in the wilderness. But, more importantly, the notes say this instruction about future temple worship coming on the heels of such severe judgement was a reassurance that yes, the children of Israel were still God’s people and would eventually get to the promised land.

But Korah and Dathan and Abiram, along with the other challengers, had this complaint against Moses and Aaron:

You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord? (Numbers 16:3b).

The ESV Study Bible notes say that Korah “[emphasized] one truth to the exclusion of others (which is what heretics and founders of cults commonly do).” In Exodus 19:4-6b, God had told the people if they obeyed Him and kept His covenant, they would be His “treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

But, though they were a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, God had set apart certain people to minister specifically in the tabernacle. Korah was a Levite who had certain duties that he should have considered a privilege.

Is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? (Numbers 16:9-10)

This time, “You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” Moses said Korah’s argument was against the Lord (Numbers 16:7, 11).

After a demonstration to illustrate God’s choice of leadership, He caused the earth to “open its mouth and swallow them up” (verses 28-35). Thus the first wave of deaths of the rebellious, unbelieving adults were swept into eternity.

I had always thought that Korah’s wife and children had died in this judgment, too, since verse 32 says, “their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods” were swallowed up. That always bothered me. But I trust “the Judge of all the earth” to “do right” (Genesis 18:25). I figured either He knew they were rebellious, too, or else He felt it best to take them on to heaven instead of having to live with the aftermath of Korah’s judgement.

But Warren Wiersbe pointed out in his book, Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God, that Numbers 26:9-11 mentions this incident and says in verse 11 “But the sons of Korah did not die.”

Korah’s descendants ministered in the tabernacle in the time of Chronicles.

Some “were in charge of the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent, as their fathers had been in charge of the camp of the Lord, keepers of the entrance” (1 Chronicles 9:19; 26:19).

Some made cakes and the showbread for the temple (1 Chronicles 9:31-32).

Some were among David’s mighty men (1 Chronicles 12:11-6).

Some of them “stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice” when God answered Jehoshaphat’s prayer (2 Chronicles 20:18-19).

And some of them wrote psalms. Eleven of them: Psalms 42; 44—49; 84—85; 87—88.

The people whose ancestors weren’t content with their Levitical role and coveted the priesthood could now say, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10b).

I had noticed the sons of Korah listed with the psalms, but for some reason never connected them with that Korah. That’s one good reason to keep reading the Bible no matter how often you’ve read it or how familiar it is. You keep finding truths and connections you missed before.

In Keep a Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot shares an excerpt from a book titled Fathers and Sons written by Phillip Howard, her grandfather:

Do you remember that encouraging word of Thomas Fuller’s, a chaplain of Oliver Cromwell’s time? It’s a good passage for a father in all humility and gratitude to tuck away in his memory treasures:

“’Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations.

Rehoboam begat Abijah; that is, a bad father begat a bad son.
Abijah begat Asa; that is, a bad father begat a good son.
Asa begat Jehoshaphat; that is, a good father begat a good son.
Jehoshaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father begat a bad son.

I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.”

It’s such a blessing to know that our genetics don’t have any influence in our standing before God. If we’re privileged to come from a long line of faithful believers, their righteousness doesn’t count for us. We have to believe on the Lord and repent of our sins personally to become part of the family of God. And if we come from people who didn’t know God or who were outright rebels, by God’s grace, we can change courses. We can say with the sons of Korah, “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (Psalm 84:12).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Trusting God for Our Children’s Safety

Except for the most abusive or negligent parents, we all want our children to be safe. When they are babies, we check their breathing at night. We buy outlet covers and baby gates in the early years, helmets and knee pads a few years later. We try to incorporate enough stranger danger warnings to make them alert without causing fear of everyone they don’t know. As much as we wish we could protect them from every physical harm, we wish we could bubble wrap their souls even more.

So I can understand the Israelites’ concern for their children in Numbers 13-14. After being miraculously led from Egypt, seeing God’s provision of food and water in the wilderness, receiving God’s law, and constructing the tabernacle, they were finally at the outskirts of the land long-promised to them by God.

But they didn’t want to go in.

A man from each tribe was sent to spy out the land. They came back with a mixed report. The land was good and fruitful. But the people in it were bigger, stronger, and more numerous than Israel.

Then the people “wept that night” and “grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” They feared they would be killed and their wives and children would become prey. Only Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people to go forward and trust God, who had already told them He’d given them the land. But the people responded by threatening to stone them.

God had enough. He is longsuffering and merciful. But these people had tried Him and refused to believe and obey Him ever since they left Egypt. God wanted to obliterate the people and start over with Moses.

Moses interceded for the people, and God pardoned them. But forgiveness doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. All the generation that complained and would not enter the promised land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Only Joshua, Caleb, their families, and the children of the current generation would enter in. “Your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness.” But, ultimately, the children would be the recipients of the promise that the adults rejected.

In our church’s Bible study time in the passage last Sunday, my husband pointed out something I had never thought of. The population of Israel would have numbered over a million by this time—some say over two million. If you subtract an estimated number of children, that still leaves tens of thousands of people to die in the next forty years. Forty years of wilderness wandering, no promised land, just death and destruction ahead. How depressing! My husband commented that the weight of this may have fueled some of the rebellions that occurred in the next few chapters.

But rebellion would only make a bad situation worse. Suppose you’re a parent in this situation. You realize you failed big time in not believing God and obeying Him. But your children that you were so afraid for will go in. The best thing repentant parents could do would be to pour everything into the time they have left with their children, teach them God’s ways, and teach them how to some day get along without their parents.

In some ways, that’s what we all have to do, isn’t it? Pour our lives into our children, teach them God’s ways, teach them to be responsible adults and to stand on their own two feet without us.

In our early married days, I remember a woman sharing during prayer meeting a need for her children and how God answered. She commented, “It’s one thing to trust God for my needs—it’s another thing to trust Him for my children’s.” It’s true: we’d much rather struggle with a need or loss or illness ourselves than see our children do so. But it’s through such things that we all grow and learn dependence on God.

When Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth ministered as missionaries in China in the early twentieth century, the Chinese were intensely suspicious of what they called “foreign devils”—basically anyone who was not Chinese. Plus sanitation was nearly unknown and disease ran rampant. So when Jonathan proposed to Rosalind that they take their children on a ministry tour around the country, Rosalind refused. Four of her children had died already. She could maintain a level of cleanliness in her own home. But out there, not knowing where they would be staying or where they could get food from village to village? It was too risky, especially adding the possibility of persecution.

Jonathan begged Rosalind to reconsider:

Rose, I am so sure this plan is of God, that I fear for the children if you refuse to obey His call. The safest place for you and the children is the path of duty. You think you can keep your children safe in our comfortable home in Changte, but God may have to show you you cannot. But He can and will keep the children if you trust Him and step out in faith (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 157).

But she refused. So he left, alone.

The next day, their one-year-old baby became ill with dysentery, with no hope of recovery. She died a short while later.

Was God being vindictive? I don’t think so. In fact, Rosalind writes that as the baby was passing, Rosalind “seemed to apprehend in a strange and utterly new way the love of God—as a Father” (p. 159).

Humbled and softened, Rosalind determined to go with her husband. Years later, at a conference of women missionaries, some wives with similar fears to hers asked publicly if her children suffered as a result of their touring. She responded that none of them had picked up any infectious diseases or come to any harm while they toured. In fact, they’d had two more children during that time. She found she had more time to give them since she didn’t have her regular housework. “And, best of all, God has set His seal upon this plan of work by giving a harvest of souls everywhere we have gone” (Rosalind Goforth, Climbing, pp. 150-151).

Of course, we’re not guaranteed that our children won’t get sick or die while we’re following God. We all know of children who have died of cancer after years of prayer and treatment or teens who had died suddenly in car accidents or of unknown causes even though their parents were faithful followers. Sometimes God delivers by taking children on home to heaven. From our human perspective, that’s a loss. But from God’s viewpoint, He’s lovingly welcoming them home.

Missionary Timothy McKeown takes issue with the statement that the safest place is in God’s will:

After studying Scripture and ministering in this context for many years, I have felt compelled to modify this saying for my own use: “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will.” But it is not necessarily the safest.

It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God’s people often—not occasionally—being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations. . . .

Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his—and, of course, our—enemies. . . .

I do not advocate foolish and irresponsible “risk taking.” . . . However, biblical reality dictates that there are, indeed, times in which God will lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where our prayer needs to be for faithfulness as reflections of his light and saltiness in this needy world.

I want to urge my fellow Christians to use extreme caution in allowing the infectious and deadly “health, wealth, prosperity, and personal comfort gospel” to become our motivator in seeking his will for our earthly lives. The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the “costs”—not to personal comfort and safety! Oh, how I pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers to go into his fields no matter what the personal costs might be (Peace, If Not Safety).

Missionaries from one of our former church’s were once accused of child abuse for raising their kids in a primitive jungle setting. I loved their oldest daughter’s response here. “A mud hut does not an abusive environment make. . . . Yes, we missed out on many of the materialistic things this world has to offer. And for that we thank God often.”

God doesn’t promote recklessness. Parents and grandparents are supposed to try to keep children safe. But we have to admit that we are limited. We can’t lock them away in a tower for protection. We can’t raise them to be fearful of going forward. We can’t avoid God’s will due to possible risks. We have to do for our children as we do for ourselves: trust and obey. He has determined how long each person’s race will be. What matters most is not the length, but hearing His “Well done” at the end.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Faithful in Obscurity

Suppose you’re playing Jeopardy!, and you see this clue in the People in the Bible category:

Bartholomew, James the son of Alphaeus,
Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot

Would you know the right question?

“Who are some of Jesus’ disciples?”

If I were the host, I’d count that correct. But, more precisely, you could ask, “Who are the lesser-known disciples of Jesus?”

The names are a little different in the various lists of disciples (people often went by more than one name then.) But these usually appear near the bottom of the lists, right before Judas Iscariot. We don’t know much about them besides their names. We don’t have their words or actions recorded in the Bible other than in what the disciples did as a group.

Several years ago, our pastor at that time shared a series of messages about the disciples. Peter, as you can imagine, was the subject of more than one sermon. I think Judas may have gotten two; John, Phillip, and some of the others may have had one message devoted to each of them.

Our pastor grouped these last virtual unkowns all together. What can we possibly learn from them?

My pastor suggested the main thing they teach us is faithfulness in obscurity.

The lack of detail about them doesn’t mean they were inactive or lesser disciples. For His own reasons, God chose to emphasize certain aspects of other disciples in the Bible.

They heard the same messages as the others and ministered alongside them. There were people they preached to and helped and healed. I’m sure they made a difference in the lives they encountered. God probably used them in ways He could not have used Peter and John.

When they give an account before God, they’re not going to get a participation ribbon or an “I was one of twelve” tee shirt. If they served God faithfully, they’ll hear His “Well done.”

So will you. You may be a busy mom of little ones, a secretary stationed at her desk, a cashier at a counter, a caregiver tucked away in a lonely room, or in any number of occupations where you feel unnoticed. Don’t be concerned if you don’t get as much attention or response as other people. Don’t fret over whether your work seems “important.” Faithfully do what God has called you to do, for His honor and glory.

Sometimes obscurity is just for a time. Jesus was on earth a little over 33 years, with only the last three spent in active ministry. What was He doing those first thirty years? The Bible doesn’t tell us much except that after Mary and Joseph thought they’d lost Him and then found Him in a discussion in the temple, “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52). We can assume He learned carpentry alongside his stepfather and did all the things a normal Jewish family would do in those times. He probably engaged in acts of kindness and quiet ministry to others.

If we were arranging things, we might have Him manifest Himself as the Son of God much sooner. But that was not God’s way. Yet that quiet time in the background, walking righteously in everyday life, was just as much a part of His life as the rest. Just before His death, Jesus prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

That can be our purpose as well, whatever work we’re called to.

God may call people to the spotlight for a short time or for much of their lives. But many of us will live as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says: “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” We can serve Him in ordinary, everyday ways, hardly noticed by the rest of the world. Yet doing that ordinary service in love as unto Him, filled with His Spirit, makes all the difference.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Have mercy on your pastor this Mother’s Day

When the COVID pandemic first began, I saw a lot of blog posts and articles pleading with people to be compassionate towards their pastor because he had likely never shepherded people through such an occasion before. It would take time to discern the best course of action in response to ever-changing information, and he had people on opposite sides of every fence involved.

Pastors face a similar dilemma on Mother’s Day, no matter whether this is their first pastoral Mother’s Day or their 50th. They will likely have people in all these circumstances in their congregations:

  • women who desperately want to have children, but God has not granted them yet
  • women who love their children but are tired and discouraged
  • women who are in despair over their parenting failures and need guidance
  • women who have no desire to be mothers
  • women who are single by choice or by circumstance
  • women whose children are wayward and breaking their hearts
  • women whose children have died
  • people whose mothers were not honorable
  • people who are estranged from their mothers
  • people whose mothers have died
  • people who don’t even know they need a Savior

Anna Jarvis probably had no idea she was creating such a minefield when she sought a simple way to honor her mother.

I’ve seen posts on Facebook already indicating that Mother’s Day shouldn’t be observed in church because it’s not a national holiday. Prophets and preachers in the Bible spoke about current events, and honoring parents is a biblical teaching. So it’s not wrong to observe the day. But whether that observation should be just a passing acknowledgment, or the whole service should be built around it, is up to each pastor’s leading of his particular congregation.

Whether pastors let the holiday go by unobserved and carry on with whatever book or series they are preaching through, or they choose to honor mothers in some way, someone is going to be offended.

Can I urge us as Christian women to be mature in response to whatever path the pastor chooses to take? To remember that love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5). To understand that there are different needs among the congregation? No one sermon will meet them all except as it points us back to the only Savior who can help and heal and provide grace.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (II Timothy 3:16-17). Whatever God lays on the pastor’s heart to preach this Sunday, if it is based on the Word of God, it will be profitable for us.

Let’s pray for our pastors to preach the message God wants him to preach that day. Let’s pray for grace for our particular triggers, seek to get from the message what God has for us, and seek to encourage others rather than focusing on self.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Is It Wrong to Seek Approval?

Is it wrong to seek the approval of people?

It can be.

Proverbs contains a lot of warnings about false approval in the form of flattery.

The Israelites got into trouble for wanting a king like other nations and wanting the gods of other nations.

Jesus warned against acting like hypocrites who practice their righteousness to be seen and praised by others.

Approval doesn’t always mean we are right. We can be misled by approval for the wrong things or from the wrong kinds of people. The desire for approval can lead us down the wrong path.

One of C. S. Lewis’s essays in The Weight of Glory is called “The Inner Ring.” “Our longing to enter them, our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in” (p. 149) can lead us into temptation. If you’ve read That Hideous Strength, the third in Lewsis’s space trilogy, this was exactly what drew Mark Studdock further into an evil organization which he didn’t recognize as such because he was so blinded by his ambition to be included.

So, yes, there is danger in seeking approval of others instead of God.

Paul instructed us to serve “with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free (Ephesians 6:5-8. Colossians 3:22-24 is similar.)

But there is a kind of approval which is not sinful, I think.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote in “The Trail to Shandia” in her book Love Has a Price Tag of a trip she took back to the jungle where she used to live twenty-three years before. She described he various kinds of terrain her party covered—submerged logs, gravel, mud the thickness of peanut butter up to one’s knees. In some of the firmer soil, she frequently saw the small footprint of a young child who had come that way not long before. Knowing that this little child had traveled the same trail and made it encouraged Elisabeth that she could make it, too.

She talked with some of the people there who remembered her from her earlier time there. One spoke of trying to write a letter to her, but then deciding it was no good and throwing it away. Elisabeth wrote:

Sometimes readers of things that I write tell me long afterward that they have thought of writing me a letter, or have written one and discarded it, thinking, “She doesn’t need my approval.” Well, they’re mistaken–for wouldn’t it be a lovely thing to know that a footprint you have left on the trail has, just by being there, heartened somebody else?

Earlier, she had written:

Analysis can make you feel guilty for being human. To be human, of course, means to be sinful, and for our sinfulness we must certainly “feel” the guilt which is rightly ours–but not everything human is sinful. There is a man on the radio every afternoon from California whose consummate arrogance in making an instant analysis of every caller’s difficulties is simply breathtaking. A woman called in to talk about her problems with her husband who happens to be an actor. “Oh,” said the counselor, “of course the only reason anybody goes into acting is because they need approval.” Bang. Husband’s problem identified. Next question. I turned off the radio and asked myself, with rising guilt feelings, “Do I need approval?” Answer: yes. Does anybody not need approval? Is there anybody who is content to live his life without so much as a nod from anybody else? Wouldn’t he be, of all men, the most devilishly self-centered? Wouldn’t his supreme solitude be the most hellish? It’s human to want to know that you please somebody.

People I’ve known who often speak of needing to please only God, not people, sometimes had rough edges about them, as if pleasing God meant defying other people or interacting with them roughly. Pleasing God and pleasing people aren’t always mutually exclusive.

Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” He tried to please others in the sense of not causing unnecessary offense. The gospel in itself causes offense to those who don’t want to hear it, but we don’t need to be offensive in our words and behavior.

Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 about married people seeking to please each other. Asking a husband if he likes our new dress or the way we fixed the pork chops isn’t wrong, nor is a husband’s telling his wife of something at work that went well.

Ultimately we want to hear God’s “well done” (Matthew 25:21)—not for salvation. That’s a free gift. (Ephesians 2:8-9). But when we give an account of what we’ve done, as His children, with what He gave us, we want Him to be pleased.

C. S. Lewis once again brings clarity between the right and wrong kinds of approval in Mere Christianity:

Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says, “Well done,” are all pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, “I have pleased him; all is well,” to thinking, “What a fine person I must be to have done it.”

Wanting approval in the sense of knowing we’ve pleased someone, knowing our life or efforts were helpful or appreciated, knowing we’re on the right track, is one thing. Wanting approval for the sake of inflating pride, drawing undue attention to self, or stroking ego is another.

Our most basic need for approval has been met in Christ, through His perfection and grace and not our own. He “made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:6-7, NKJV).

When the approval of people means displeasing God, we need to forgo the approval of people. Paul said he sought to please God by preaching the true gospel even though preaching a false one would have saved him from persecution and earned him approval of man. We need to keep being faithful to God whether anyone approves or not—even whether someone actually disapproves.

But sometimes He sends someone with an encouraging word to let us know we’re on the right track or we’ve done something well. It’s okay to appreciate such feedback and even thank God for it. But we need to guard our hearts so we don’t think, as Lewis said, “What a fine person I must be.” We serve “as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 4:11).

(Sharing with Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Grace at Home, Blogger Voices Network)

Do You Want a Fresh Word from the Lord?

I know what it’s like to wish I could look up and see God’s will sky written in the blue expanse. Or to wish I had I could hear from God personally and specifically. Or, I am sorry to say, to feel bored with a seemingly dry or familiar part of Scripture.

But we don’t need to long for something more or something different.

Peter tells us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

We have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” “through the knowledge of him who called us” by “his precious and very great promises.” As we get to know Him more and more through His Word, we have everything we need to live for Him.

One former pastor used to say that the Bible is “divinely brief.” Of the multitude of things God could have told us, the sixty-six books contained in the Bible are what He chose to convey to us.

What are we doing with that special, God-given book?

No, God won’t tell us which job to take, which city to live in, or which person to marry in the Bible. But the Bible will teach us principles of walking with God and developing wisdom, and God promises to guide us in the way we should go.

Some times in the Bible are intensely personal. I don’t know how many times my scheduled reading for the day directly answered something I had been praying about or pondering.

When I was in the hospital before being diagnosed with transverse myelitis, I was scheduled for an MRI. The night before, nearly every nurse or aide who came in asked me if I was claustrophobic. I wasn’t sure. I was told the MRI sometimes made people feel uncomfortable because they slide you into this close-fitting tube and you have to be very still. They said they could give me a sedative if I thought I would need it. I wanted to avoid unnecessary medication if I could, so I declined the sedative.

The next morning, the Daily Light on the Daily Path reading, which is made up of just Scripture verses with no commentary, was about being still, being quiet, or resting in the Lord:

  • “Sit still, my daughter” (Ruth 3:18)
  • “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
  • “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted” (Isaiah 7:4)
  • “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)
  • “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4)
  • “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7)
  • “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established” (Psalm 112:7-8)

Many of those verses were familiar to me, and throughout the MRI, I repeatedly went over them in my mind. They washed over my soul and quieted me.

Every meal we eat can’t be a Thanksgiving or an anniversary dinner at the steak house. But even the peanut butter sandwiches and tuna casseroles nourish us.

Every conversation with our spouse won’t be thrillingly romantic. The everyday “Can you pick up the dry cleaning?” and “Good dinner, thanks” weave together with the highlights to form the fabric of a strong relationship.

Every day isn’t fireworks and feasting. Most are quietly spent at home.

Every time in the Bible won’t be a mountaintop experience or warm and cozy.

But all our times in the Word help us get to know God better and strengthen us to live for Him.

We’ll never exhaust the Bible. There will always be something new to learn, no matter how many times we read it. But we also need the repetition of old truths so we don’t forget them.

If the Bible seems “old” or stale to us, maybe reading Psalm 119 will help the psalmist’s enthusiasm infuse our souls. Asking God to speak to us and give us understanding and a new appreciation for His Word helps as well. Aids like a good study Bible or commentary or study book can help open passages up to us.

Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Psalm 119:24-25 says, “Your testimonies are indeed my delight; they are my counselors. My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!”

Do you need a fresh word from the Lord? Pick up the old faithful Bible. Let God’s Word revive you.

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessings, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace at Home, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network).