Pressure

My husband and I listened to an online sermon recently which contained a story I had never heard before.

The USS Thresher was a nuclear-powered submarine that sank in 1963, killing all 129 people on board. A series of events caused it to sink and then to implode due to the extreme pressure deep in the ocean.

Research equipment with cameras that could withstand the oceanic pressure were lowered and found the Thresher in five pieces.

It’s hard to fathom water pressure strong enough to crush a submarine.

Yet there are fish and creatures that live at such depths. How are they not crushed?

This article tells of some features of a few specific deep-sea creatures. But the bottom line, Wikipedia says, is “Deep-sea organisms have the same pressure within their bodies as is exerted on them from the outside, so they are not crushed by the extreme pressure.”

The fish and other creatures aren’t crushed by deep sea pressure because their internal pressure is equal to it. In fact, many die (even explode) when they are brought to the surface for study because their pressure is no longer equalized.

We face a lot of pressures these days, don’t we? Making a living, keeping up with responsibilities, making time for those we love. Then we all have struggles against our own besetting sins. The world is getting less friendly to Christianity every day. And we have an enemy of our souls who seeks our destruction like a roaring lion.

We’re not equal to it in ourselves. “My flesh and my heart may fail,” Asaph says. Mine, too. But he goes on to say, “but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The one within us is more than equal to the pressures around us.

“Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8, HCSB).

Sometimes God relieves pressure by removing a burden from us. Other times, He gives us grace to bear it. He invites us to cast our care on Him, to depend on His strength in our weakness, to come to Him for rest.

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

15 Favorite Posts from 15 Years of Blogging

I mentioned in my end-of-July post that I forgot my blogging anniversary until WordPress sent me a reminder. It’s been fifteen years!

Often in the past I’ve done something special to observe my blogiversary. Since it caught me off guard this year, I didn’t have anything prepared.

I had been pondering ways to bring some of old posts back to the forefront, since they were published before I knew some of you. Then, voila! The idea came to list fifteen of my favorite blog posts to commemorate my fifteenth year of blogging. There won’t be one from each year—that would have taken too much time to search out. But these were either fun to write or were special to me in some way.

So here we go, in no particular order:

  1. Coping when a husband is away. This is my top-viewed post of all time. I had no idea it would touch such a chord. My husband had to travel heavily for at least half, maybe as much as two-thirds of our 41-year marriage. Though I didn’t like it, I am thankful God used what He taught me to help others.

2. How Not to Become an Old Biddie. After seeing examples of different kinds of older ladies, I realized I needed to start working on what kind of older lady I want to be now. (Related: Why Older Women Don’t Serve and Ways Older Women Can Serve.)

3. With All Our Feebleness. Reflections on serving God with physical and other limitations.

4. My Ebenezers. In 1 Samuel 7:12: “Samuel took a stone . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’” “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” In this post, I listed some of my verbal “Ebenzers,” commemorations of the Lord’s special help in my life.

5. Having Devotions When You’re not Feeling Very Devoted. We’ve all been there, I’m sure. (Related: When There Is No Hunger for God’s Word.)

6. Strong Women. What feminine strength means and doesn’t mean, with literary and Biblical examples.

7. Encouragement for Mothers of Small Children in the area of trying to find quiet time with the Lord.

8. The Back Burner. The stuff on the back burner is all the more flavorful for its time sitting and simmering. So with the things in our lives we have to set on the back burner: they’ll be all the better for the wait.

9. Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian Fiction? Every reason I could think of for reading all of them.

10. Can Frugality Go Too Far? Even good traits can be carried too far.

11. It’s Not For Nothing. Caregiving can seem monotonous and futile when the patient sleeps most of the time, can’t speak, and isn’t interested in food, as was the case for my mother-in-law her last two years in our home. These were truths that encouraged me. (Related: Remembering the Loved One Who Has Forgotten You.)

12. Manufactured Spirituality. Routines and programs can help us spirituality, but sometimes we focus on them to the detriment of real spirituality.

13. The Quiet Person in the Small Group. How not to torture your introverts.

14 Going to a Church with Problems. They all have them, even the ones in the Bible. (Related: What You Miss When You Turn Your Back on Church.)

15. Myths and Maxims of Ministry gleaned over many years. Myth #1: “Since this is being done for the Lord, everything should go smoothly.” Nope!

These are the posts that floated to mind. If I had actually searched every year’s posts, I might have had a different list. But there’s probably a reason these are the ones that came to mind.

As you’ve noticed, I cheated stretched my numbers a bit. Sometimes I couldn’t decide between a couple of posts on a similar topic, so I included one as “related.”

I’ve noticed that I should probably go back and edit some of the older posts. One of the tendencies my first critiquer at a writer’s conference pointed out was “long, convoluted sentences” that should be broken into two sentences (or three or four). Hopefully some day I can correct those in my older posts.

Thank you so much to all of you who read and comment. Without you, this would just be an online journal. Nothing makes me day like hearing that something here has blessed and helped someone.

(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)

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Here are a few noteworthy reads discovered in the last couple pf weeks.

On Deconversion. A plausible reason why we’re seeing more of this phenomenon.

Live According to a Plumb Line, not a Pendulum, HT to Challies.

Book Banning in an Age of Amazon, HT to Challies. “Forget the ‘firemen’ from Fahrenheit 451: You needn’t burn forbidden books if people can’t buy them in the first place.”

Is the Crucifixion of Christ Cosmic Child Abuse? HT to Challies. This video clip from the American Gospel film (which I haven’t seen but should) answers that charge as well as the question of why God needs sacrifice to forgive. It might be confusing if you don’t know who the people are in the video, but basically it shows clips from people on opposite viewpoints.

This World Is Passing Away. Beautifully written and a much-needed reminder.

Interactive Bird Map, HT to The Story Warren. This is pretty cool—follow the link to a site where you can click on a bird to see what it sounds like. We have some of these in our yard, but I had not connected which sounds went with which birds except the mourning dove.

“I See the Light” parody—with Ducks. HT to The Story Warren. This is one of my favorite Disney songs, but this parody made me laugh.

Finally, I loved this clip of a baby hearing violin music for the first time.

Happy Saturday!

How to Quiet Your Soul

How to quiet your soul

Has your soul been unquiet lately? The pandemic, civil unrest, the daily news, politics, social media bickering, and a host of other factors can disturb our peace.

We can’t live like ostriches with our heads in the sand. We need to live in but not of the world and minister to others. But what do we do when it all gets to be too much?

We all vary in how much news or social media is good for us. But when it’s too noisy in our souls, here’s how we can quiet them again:

Remember God’s love.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

In my early Christian days, when anything bad happened, my confidence in God’s love was shaken. How could He allow this if He loved me? What did I do wrong?

Though God sometimes uses calamities to discipline us, bad events aren’t always meant to chasten. He has many reasons for allowing trials and suffering. But He assures us of His love all through the Bible. We can rest secure in His love no matter what else is going on in the world.

Hope in God

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 43:5, NASB)

Other translations say disturbed, restless, or in turmoil in place of disquieted, but they all paint a similar picture. Like Peter on the water, we sink if we look at the storm. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’ll be fine.

Wait on the Lord

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:24-26)

Just before these verses in Lamentations, Jeremiah writes of his soul being bowed down, yet having hope because “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:20-23). God will take care of us and meet our needs, but we have to wait on His timing.

Trust the Lord

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling. (Isaiah 30:15)

Instead of sinking under the weight of trials. a quiet trust in God gives us strength to carry on.

The last phrase indicates that returning, rest, trusting, and quietness are related to our will (more on that in a moment). We need to deliberately turn to God and place our faith in Him. (Some good commentary on this verse is here, especially the one by MacLaren).

Quiet our souls

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.(Psalm 131:1-2)

The commentaries and ESV Study Bible notes I consulted all seemed to emphasize the idea of contentment here. A baby would normally clamor to be fed in the way it was used to from its mother, but here an older child is content to “simply [have] its mother’s presence.” “So the faithful worshiper is content with God’s presence, even when there are many things he would like God to explain” (ESV Study Bible notes, p. 1109).

Feed our souls truth

Someone mentioned the other day that we can’t tell people who are struggling, “Just trust the Lord and everything will be okay.” We should be empathetic, and there are times friends just need a listening ear. The psalms are full of laments, crying out to God in the midst of deep pain, betrayal, confusion, or loss. Trite answers don’t help at those times.

Yet the psalmists at some point reminded themselves of God’s truth. In all but one or two of them, the writer ended up in a different frame of mind from where he started. He reminded himself of God’s love, power, wisdom, and other attributes. He reviewed times in the past when God had intervened on his behalf.

The passages mentioned above indicate action on our part. Isaiah 30:15 said the people were unwilling to be quieted. Psalm 131:2 says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul. “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God” when he was surrounded by trouble (I Samuel 30:6b). The writer of Psalm 42 prayed, poured out his soul, and then admonished himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (verse 11).

We cry out to God for peace and rest of heart, and He ministers to us from His Word, His love, His providence. His Holy Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Like the psalmists, we look to Him and hope in Him. And we join them is saying:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Psalm 34:4-8

When I looked up the definitions to one of the Greek words for “quiet” in one of these passages, one of them said that the same word was often translated “rest.” Rest would be another valuable word study, but it brought to mind this hymn: Jesus, I am Resting, Resting. May God give us grace to rest in Him today.

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

God’s Part, My Part

“Lord, change me.”

Do you ever pray that? And do you ever get frustrated with the slowness of change? Or even the lack of change?

I do. I pray for God to fill me with the fruit of His Holy Spirit, and not an hour later get impatient. I pray for victory over anger, and then lose my temper over something trivial. I pray for help with self-control, and then convince myself it really is okay to eat another cookie.

I can’t do anything without God’s help, so it’s good to ask for it. But sometimes He doesn’t want us to stop there. He wants us to take action—not by ourselves, but with Him.

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:2a)

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

The Bible is full of action verbs. We don’t do any of these things to earn God’s love or favor, We’re saved by grace through faith. He loved us when we were His enemies. He already loves us abundantly—He’s not going to love us more if we get our act together.

Nor do we sanctify ourselves or make ourselves Christlike. He does that.

But He asks us to obey. To abide. To behold Him. To be transformed by renewing our mind with His truth. To participate. To respond. To cooperate.

1 Timothy 4:7 says to “train yourself for godliness.” Other translations use “discipline” or “exercise.” What happens when we exercise? We expend energy and effort to the point of aching and sweating. Paul goes on to say “For to this end we toil and strive,” not in order to earn God’s favor, but “because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). He tells the Corinthians, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). According to a note here, the Greek word translated “discipline” means “pummel”: “I pummel my body.” Grace doesn’t mean passiveness or a lack of effort.

I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering what’s God’s part and what’s my part in the Christian life. Someone once said, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.” I don’t know if that’s quite it. It helps me more to think of man with the withered hand or the paralyzed man whom Jesus told to rise, take up his bed, and walk. He told them to do exactly what they couldn’t do. But in taking Him at His Word and obeying, they were given grace and power to do what He said.

Maybe it doesn’t matter exactly where the lines are. Maybe it’s not a formula: God does those steps and then I do these. In many of those verses listed, God’s part and our part go hand in hand. We abide in Him, He abides in us, He produces fruit. We behold Him, He transforms us.

Do I abide in prayer, or do I race through a prayer list? Do I behold Him in His Word, or do I run my eyes down the day’s reading? Do I look for the promised escape from temptation or for an excuse to indulge?

So I pray. And by faith I abide, behold, renew. And I trust Him to transform. And I remember a walk is a series of steps to a destination. And I remember bearing fruit is a long process of growth.

(Sharing with Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon,
Inspire Me Monday, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements,
Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

What is Success?

What is success in the Bible?

What does the word “success” bring to mind?

Money in the bank—enough to cover bills plus a little extra? A house and two cars? A desired promotion? A vibrant ministry with thousands of followers? Plans that turn out exactly as we wanted?

Sometimes people are smack dab in the center of God’s will, yet their lives don’t appear successful.

But wait—doesn’t God promise success if we follow Him? Doesn’t Joshua 1:8 say:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

And Psalm 1:3 says of the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

And Proverbs 3:3-4 says:

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

The very next verses in Proverbs 3 are the more well known, but we usually take them out of context:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all  your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (verses 5-7).

Look at John the Baptist. He had faithfully preached and prepared the way of the Messiah. He pointed others to the Lamb of God, not caring that he lost “followers” to Jesus. But he spent his last years in prison and then was beheaded by an evil ruler.

After God gave Jeremiah the message He wanted him to share with the people, God said, “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (Jeremiah 7:27).

When Elisabeth Elliot went to the mission field, she had every expectation that God would bless her work and that of other missionaries “in beautiful, demonstrable ways.”

Her words sounded naive. After all, she’d read missionary biographies; she knew the stories of men and women who had lost their lives, like John and Betty Stam, or lost their health, or lost their minds, in service of Christ. She was ready to pay any price to be obedient to His leading.

But, like many, she believed that God would surely take her sacrifices and make them into successes for His sake . . . glorious victories that human beings could see, that could be reported to supporters back home, bringing glory to God (Ellen Vaughn, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, pp 100-101).

Instead, during this period in her life, Elisabeth lost a vital coworker to murder, the results of several months of linguistic study to theft, her husband and four colleagues to spears from the very tribe they were trying to reach, and the ministry she thought God had been preparing her for to relationship issues.

Elisabeth titled the book about this period of life These Strange Ashes, words taken from an Amy Carmichael poem which begins:

But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?

For many years, people often asked Elisabeth “if the men’s mission on Palm Beach was a ‘success.'”

To her, the only measure of any human action came down to one thing: obedience. She’d look at an interviewer as if the “success” question was dull. Yes, yes, of course. After all, they knew God wanted them to go to the tribe, and they were obedient to His leading (Vaughn, p. 259).

Vaughn goes on to say that “If ‘success’ is defined not by obedience, but by measurable outcomes, then we’ve got to get into metrics” (p. 259)—how many people were saved or called to service, and how many people the men reached as opposed to what the men might have accomplished had they lived, etc. But we can never know those things. And God doesn’t always measure success in numbers.

Elisabeth wrote:

I believe with all my heart that God’s story has a happy ending. . . . But not yet, not necessarily yet. It takes faith to hold onto that in the face of the great burden of experience, which seems to prove otherwise. What God means by happiness and goodness is a far higher thing than we can conceive (Vaughn, p. 260).

Success, basically, is doing the will of God and leaving the results to Him..

Sometimes He brings about visible results. Sometimes He turns things around, like He did for Joseph, who was the favorite son, then sold into slavery, then falsely accused and imprisoned before becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man and saving nations from starvation. Elisabeth went on to have a long and fruitful writing and speaking ministry, made all the richer and deeper by what she went through in her early adult life. A strong group of believers grew up among the tribe she worked with her husband died for, the Waodani, with a world-wide witness despite human foibles.

Sometimes the visible outcome doesn’t occur in this life. Lazarus–not the one whom Jesus raised from the dead—was a neglected beggar at the gate of a rich man. Things weren’t set “right” in his life til he went to “Abraham’s side” and was comforted. Poor, loyal Uriah, who was so faithful that he wouldn’t enjoy the pleasures of home while the king’s soldiers were in battle, was sent to the forefront of the battle to be killed off by the king who impregnated his wife.

Hebrews 11 tells wonderful success stories of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (verses 33-35). However, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (verses 35-38). Yet they were all “commended through their faith” (verse 39).

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 7:14).

The ultimate example of what looked like failure from a human standpoint is the life and death of Jesus

His life on earth had a most inauspicious beginning. There was the scandal of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the stable, the announcement not to village officials but to uncouth shepherds. A baby was born – a Savior and King – but hundreds of babies were murdered because of Him. His public ministry, surely no tour of triumph, no thundering success story, led not to stardom but to crucifixion. Multitudes followed Him, but most of them wanted what they could get out of Him and in the end all His disciples fled. Yet out of this seeming weakness and failure, out of His very humbling to death, what exaltation and what glory (Elisabeth Elliot, These Strange Ashes, p. 145).

The seeming failure was not a failure at all. Christ’s death accomplished salvation for all who will believe in Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

So those verses in Joshua and Psalms and other places about success are true. God does grant success to those who meditate on His Word and walk with Him. The circumstances may or may not look successful. If things seem to be going wrong, it’s good to pray and examine our hearts and actions for sin, for blind spots, for better ways to do things. But otherwise, we can leave the results to God.

The success Psalm 1 promises is that our “leaf does not wither.” We won’t “dry up” spiritually. God will continue to give grace and strength, no matter the circumstances.

But sometimes we look at outcomes in this life, seeking the reassurance of a happy ending, and it’s just not there. What then? As Betty put it, His ways are “inscrutable.” So we have to rest, not in the peace of a pretty story, but in the reality of faith in a Person we cannot see (Vaughn, p. 245).

Psalm 1:3

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Spiritual Sacrifices

Sacrifice doesn’t seem like a beautiful word. It conjures up images of animals, blood, and altars, or it makes us think of something we should give up that we don’t want to.

Definition.org has this as one meaning of sacrifice: “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.”

On the one hand I think of the sacrifices God made for us. Think of the trouble humanity has cost Him on an everyday basis for millennia. Yet He created us and He desires our fellowship. Amazing! And because He does, He sent only begotten sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to lay down His life and take on Himself our sin and the just punishment we deserved. Jesus, in full agreement and in full submission to His Father, willingly surrendered, sacrificed His life for us. If we repent of our sin and believe on Him, we can be saved, cleansed, forgiven, and made His own children. In addition, we have a home waiting for us in heaven and His grace, presence, and help here and now. We don’t merit that forgiveness and salvation by any kind of sacrifice we make: there’s nothing we could ever do that would be enough to earn it. It’s a free gift based on His sacrifice.

In His example, though, I think the definition doesn’t fit in the sense of surrendering something highly valuable for something of more value. We are certainly not of more value than God’s Son. But He did love us enough to give His greatest treasure for our redemption.

In light of that, any kind of sacrifice we might make for Him pales in comparison. I’ve known of dear folks who echo David Livingstone’s sentiments:

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in, and for, us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (Speech to students at Cambridge University, December 4, 1857)

I get what he’s saying. Jesus did so much for us, and we don’t appreciate it nearly enough. We should be so filled with love and gratitude that we can’t help giving back to Him.

And yet—the Bible calls us to sacrifice to God and acknowledges the high cost. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But God calls us to other kinds of sacrifice.

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5

What kind of spiritual sacrifices are we to make?

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17

Even in Old Testament times, the sacrifices which were a picture of the coming perfect Sacrifice could be an empty ritual if one’s heart was not broken and contrite before God. I think this is the first sacrifice: our pride, our stubborn clinging to our “own” way, our laying aside of anything in our lives that is not pleasing to God. It’s also a continual sacrifice as we walk daily with the Lord, read His Word, grow in Him, and become more aware of how much that desire for our “own” way is ingrained in our thinking.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

Not just our broken spirit and heart, but even our bodies are to be surrendered to Him. He reminds us that this is only our reasonable service in light of God’s mercies to us.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Hebrews 13:15

I’ve wondered why our praise to God would be called a sacrifice: perhaps because we have to get our attention off ourselves and our concerns.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16

Some years back my husband commented on the honesty of this verse, acknowledging that it does cost us something to do good to others.

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18

This and the previous verse indicate that sometimes those spiritual sacrifices manifest themselves in meeting physical needs. Paul’s response to the Philippians’ sacrifice shows forth some of the beauty of a sacrifice given and received.

Several years ago, my husband took our youngest son out to shop for my birthday. My son was excited about perhaps buying a little something for himself after getting Mom’s present. As my son chose the item he wanted to purchase for me, my husband told him that item would take all the money he had. It took my son a few moments to process the realization that if he bought that gift for me, he wouldn’t be able to buy anything for himself. Finally, though a little teary, he decided to go ahead with the purchase. I can’t tell you how that touched my heart to realize that he denied himself to do something special for me.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Philippians 2:17

Paul was willing for his life to be poured out in ministry to others.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

Even more than Paul, Christ is our example of walking in love and giving oneself.

It’s okay to call a sacrifice a sacrifice. The Bible does. It’s even okay to say it hurts. Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane. Hebrews 12:1-2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We can look ahead, too, to the time when every sacrifice will fade away for joy.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

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

Often, what makes a sacrifice seem hard is the struggle to give up what we think is ours: our time, our schedule, our goods, our lives. But as David prayed after the people of Israel offered the things needed for the building of the temple, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). If we remember that anything we have is not our own but was given to us by God in the first place, and if we meditate on His mercies and all He has done for us, it doesn’t seem so hard then to surrender it back to Him. Back to our definition, whatever the value of what we sacrifice, it pales in comparison to the worth of the One to whom we are sacrificing.

The beauty of sacrifice is the humble surrender to God of what He freely gave us, in response to His great love and mercy, for use in His service in a life of love and ministry to others, which He regards as wellpleasing, as a “sweetsmelling savour.”

The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! Psalm 118:27

(Revised from the archives)

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What God Tells Us to Remember

Many of us spend the last days of the year looking back at it. Maybe that reminiscence is sparked by the Christmas letters we wrote loved ones, or by the pause before putting up our shiny new calendars for the new year.

There used to be a saying on memes that went something like, “Don’t look back—you’re not going that way.” However, though we shouldn’t live in the past, we benefit from considering it at times.

I jotted down for my own remembrance the ESV Study Bible note for Isaiah 44:21, where God pointed out the futility of idols and told Israel to remember certain things:

Remember. God calls his people to focused thought, in contrast to the muddled delusions described in vv. 9-20 about “these things,” both the all-sufficiency of the God who makes true promises to his people and the emptiness of the false gods with their lies (p. 1321).

The note on Isaiah 46:8 says something similar:

Mental focus on who God is must be renewed, for the idolatrous culture of the world erodes clarity (p. 1326).

God calls us to remember, to exercise “focused thought.” Verses came floating to mind about what God tells us to remember. So I did a quick word study, which resulted in four pages of references. I can’t put all of them here, but I’ll share several.

“Remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.” (Numbers 15:39-40)

“Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)

“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

“Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you”. (Deuteronomy 32:7). (The rest of the chapter details God’s gracious dealings in Israel’s history.)

Remember God’s provision: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) (Jesus reminded his disciples, when they discussed having no bread, about his past provision of loaves and fishes. Matthew 16:5-12.)

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered.” (1 Chronicles 16:12)

“Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 9:7). (It’s not that God wanted to hold their past rebellion over their heads forever, but they needed to remember their tendency to sin so that they might be humbled and appreciative of His grace.)

Remember how God dealt with other people’s sin, to learn from their example. “Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:9); “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

Remember his Word:

“Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” (1 Chronicles 16:15)

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Peter 3:1-2)

“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 17)

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:3)

Remember the nothingness of idols and the greatness of his salvation (Isaiah 44:9-26, “Remember these things,” v. 21; Isaiah 46, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,” vv. 8-9).

“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)

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

Besides imperative sentences, I noticed some sweet examples of focused remembrance about God, his truth, his ways, his past provision, and the effect of this remembrance. Some were in Psalm 77, Psalm 78, and Isaiah 63. One was in Psalm 63:5-7:

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” 

Another is in Psalm 143:3-6:

“For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”

One more in Lamentations 3:19-26:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,  “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Any time is a good time to remember God’s character and dealings with us. But I hope that before the year ends, you’re able to have some “focused thought” on his particular provision and expressions of love in your life.

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Blind Spots

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My oldest son’s first car was a used convertible. When I borrowed it once for an errand, I commented to him that the car had a huge blind spot. The corner between the small plexiglass back windshield and the door window was wider than in most cars. If I looked back over my right shoulder, I could hardly see anything. My son responded, “Yeah, but if the top is down, there’s no blind spot!”

We know that vehicles have blind spots—areas where we can’t see what’s around the car. So we use mirrors, signals, and occasionally other passengers to help make sure the way is clear when we need to change lanes.

If you’ve ever read about the blind spots of an 18-wheeler, you know not to drive your car next to the truck in a spot where you can’t be seen.

But somehow we go barreling through life without thinking that we might have personal blind spots.

Our church has just finished reading through Malachi, where God brings up several different issues with His people. But their response to each charge is basically, “What are you talking about? We’re doing fine.”

God said of the Laodicean church in Revelation, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

You’ve probably read online conversations, as I have, where someone lashes out at others over some issue, and then complains about feeling judged. But somehow these folks miss their own judging of others that they’ve just displayed. The irony would be been funny if it wasn’t so serious.

And then, just about the time I get all stirred up about other people’s blind spots, God reminds me that I have a few of my own.

What causes blind spots?

We think we know more than we do—at least, more than the other person.

We’re too busy looking at the speck in another person’s eye to see the log in our own.

We haven’t given enough thought or prayer to a subject.

We assume we know the other person’s meaning and motives.

We haven’t studied the Bible enough to know what it says on certain issues, or we study with preconceived conclusions in mind.

We don’t want to change our views on a subject, so we don’t listen to other perspectives.

How can we combat blind spots? What tools, mirrors, assistance, or signals can help us navigate and avoid collisions?

Humility. We don’t know all there is to know on any issue. We don’t know every perspective. Sometimes we’re quick to jump on and expound upon a topic because we’ve read and studied it out before. Still, even if we’re an expert in an area, we have to be careful of appearing arrogant. And there might just be a thing or two we could still learn about it.

Ask for others’ feedback. Just as a fellow passenger can see what we can’t from their viewpoint, a friend or mentor can give us a kind but honest assessment.The first time I turned in a partial manuscript for a paid critique, I was astounded and humbled at the number of mistakes the editor discovered. The experience was a painful but necessary step to improvement.

Prayer. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This is something we should be doing regularly. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?Other versions say “desperately  wicked” or “incurable.” We’re probably deceived about ourselves more than anyone or anything else.

Listening. James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” If I am getting riled up about something, that’s usually a clue that I need to step back rather than launch in. And before I share what I think, I need to really hear what the other person is saying and look at it from their point of view. I still might not agree with them, but I might understand them better.

Read and listen to God’s Word. Anatomically speaking, we all have a blind spot where nerves pass through our retina. At the spot where they pass through, there are no rods or cones, so our eyes don’t see light there. The brain usually fills in what we don’t actually see. Spiritually, though, we don’t need to have any blind spots. We need God to turn His searchlight on to show us things we need to confess to Him and seek His help to overcome. If something keeps coming up in our Bible reading, books, sermons, and conversations, God might be trying to get our attention about it. Instead of being quick to brush it off, we need to take it before the Lord.

Listen to criticism and correction. Sometimes criticism is totally unfounded. But instead of getting defensive, we need to examine criticism for any truth in it. “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).

Proceed cautiously. I was extra-careful in my son’s convertible since I knew I couldn’t see traffic in one area well. Similarly, there’s a turn on our way home that’s right on top of a hill. I can’t see oncoming traffic until I get to the top, so I am careful not to turn early. Ephesians 5:15 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”

I usually use a Swiffer sweeper on our hardwood floors, because it gets dust and hair more efficiently. But one day I got the broom and dust pan to sweep up some crumbs.The sunlight was streaming in the windows as I swept, and I saw a cloud of dust swirling almost chest high from my efforts. Without the light shining in, I would never have known that I was stirring up more dust than I was getting rid of.

How desperately we need God’s truth to shine in on our lives and show us what we wouldn’t otherwise see. How we need His wisdom, cleansing, and guidance.

To open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:18).

Clara H. Scott wrote a hymn in 1895, asking God to open her eyes, ears, mind, and heart to His truth. It’s a good prayer for us today:

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.

Refrain 1:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.

Refrain 2:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mind, that I may read
More of Thy love in word and deed;
What shall I fear while yet Thou dost lead?
Only for light from Thee I plead.

Refrain 3:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my mind, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.

Refrain 4:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my heart, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

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