But Our Eyes are Upon You

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(Photo Credit – Kim Clayton Lance)

One of my favorite pastors is Dr. David Jeremiah (senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in California and founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries). I love his books. I love his style. Mainly, I love his steadfast passion for the Lord! He is a great teacher. A great preacher. Yesterday, I saw a YouTube clip from one of Dr. Jeremiah’s current sermons offering a great perspective on the Covid19 pandemic. It was very encouraging. Dr. Jeremiah highlighted the prayer of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:5-12). It is an ancient prayer, long past. But, the prayer could so appropriately be the prayer of our hearts right now.

Years ago, I had already highlighted this prayer of King Jehoshaphat in my Bible…

2 Chronicles 20:5-12 New King James Version (NKJV)

Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ 10 And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— 11 here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

Most of our responses to things are based upon our focus. This I know. When my eyes are upon Jesus, there is no room for fear. When my eyes are upon anything else, my anxiety will surely rise up. I heard it said one time that “we are what we look at.” Ouch! So true. What we look at indicates what our heart desires. I am praying that the eyes of my heart stay focused on the God who rules over all the kingdoms and nations. The God who hears and saves. The God whose power and might no one can withstand.

Psalm 141:8 (NIV) “But my eyes are fixed on You, O Sovereign Lord; in You I take refuge – do not give me over to death.”

But keep our eyes upon You, Lord, I pray.

A Whisper of Easter

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God surely has a way of lifting up His countenance upon us! My husband and I recently welcomed a beautiful new granddaughter into our family. A baby! In March 2020. In the middle of a pandemic. God has a way! We recently enjoyed some home-smoked barbecue from our son-in-law. Delicious! God has a way! We have had regular FaceTime visits with our grandchildren who live 45 minutes away. Ages almost 2, 4, and 6. Blessed chaos! God has a way!

I am not usually a participant in chain letters. I’ve never had much trouble saying no to invitations to anything “chain.” I’m not even comfortable with text chains with unrecognizable numbers. But, I recently made an exception. The purpose of the chain was to provide an “uplift” to women. And yes, I got a few “no’s” and I didn’t really expect the 20 of my friends that I thought might participate to actually participate… They might not even speak to me again…

But, I received some pearls in the desert! Refreshing. Encouraging. Unexpected. Smile-producing. Heart-warming. Grace-filled. God has a way! And, I happened to recognize two out of the four responders (small world!):

One sister-in-Christ wrote: “John 1:14 ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of truth and grace.’ One of my favorite verses. Praying for all. Hope this finds you and yours well. And sane!” The sanity part is up for grabs. But, this happens to be one of my favorite verses too!

Another sister wrote: “I want to encourage you today that, no matter what your circumstances say, God is Sovereign, Wise, and Good! He is love and He loves you. Trust in Him! I Chronicles 5:20 ‘…for they cried out to God in the battle, and He granted their urgent plea because they trusted in Him.’ Your sister, Angela.”

Another wrote: “Hope you and your family are well during this strange time in our lives. Here is what I wanted to share with you… Isaiah 41:10 ‘So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ ” She attached a YouTube original song, written and sung with additional encouragement. God has a way!

The fourth one wrote: “Numbers 6:24-26 ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.’ Have a great night!”

Words can be used for amazing good. And yes, The Lord surely lifts up His countenance upon us. Even now. These words provided me with a whisper of Easter.

 

More Than Conquerors

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Photo taken from AMAZING ANIMAL FACTS by Christopher Maynard, 1993, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (Illustrations copyright 1993 Dorling Kindersley)

I have always loved the analogy that Rose Marie Miller gives in her book FROM FEAR TO FREEDOM about a caterpillar in a ring of fire. More about that later…

While the boundaries for venturing out are getting tighter and tighter, I am asking myself what, if anything, can be the silver lining in a pandemic crisis like Covid-19? I once went to see a movie with my husband called CONTAGION. Only minutes into this movie, which I wouldn’t have chosen but was being a “good sport” to go see, a real emergency happened. A member of the audience was having a life threatening episode which required the call to emergency personnel and a shut down of the movie. We did not discover if he was resuscitated or not. Yet, I am personally glad that I didn’t get a technicolor and surround sound movie experience of what a true pandemic could look like. My BP returned to normal and we went on with our day.

One thing about being cooped up now is having time to think. In my case, it’s having the time to do things that were on my back burner wish list – quilting, reading, and writing…

Romans 8:35-39 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, back to the caterpillar. The picture. If a caterpillar is stuck in the center of a ring of fire (just imagine), there is literally no way out. Unless. Someone pulls it out. Straight up. Out of harm’s way. When we are crawling around in the center of the flames, wondering what to do, we must look up instead of outward. We must reach heavenward instead of earthward. We can’t poke our way out. We will get singed. We must remind ourselves that the only Hand that pulls us out is Jesus.

Conquering faith is how we avoid the heat. Facts can be helpful. But, facts do not save us. Jesus saves. Just a reminder. We are more than conquerors.

The Other Side

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“Calgon, take me away!” was a slogan made memorable in a 1978 Calgon Bath Powder commercial. If only a bath powder could transport us out of our daily circumstances and into the soothing warmth of a heavenly hot bath! The “other side” is what our hearts long for when life’s heaviness becomes too much.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…” The hardships of life are “a given;” however, the ability to wait on the Lord’s timing and to persevere through circumstances is not “a given.” For that ability, we need the Holy Spirit to enable us, assuming we are His believing children.

Sweet roses (lots of them) on Valentine’s Day took me briefly to the “other side” as a much-needed excursion from the worries and concerns of the last 6 months. Within my family, an array of circumstances unfolded ranging from kidney stones, dental and orthopedic surgery, failing vision, airline delays, a mild stroke, melanoma, a newly widowed friend, and another friend’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The roses reminded me of the best blessings in life, not the least of which is a thoughtful husband. Definitely the “other side!”

In this brief 6 months, though, we will also welcome a 6th grandchild into the world! We will celebrate an 89th birthday! We will celebrate a 6th birthday! We will see two more babies born to my nieces before summer is finished. There is always the “other side.” And, a time to be born.

Through all circumstances, I am grateful to be able to claim Psalm 34:4: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” I certainly have a few fears these days as I prayerfully contemplate the “other side.” I hate flying, but I have to do it if I want to get to certain destinations (other sides). I dread having my thoughts consumed by coronavirus panic. But, I do live in this world. I’m tenuous about aging and figure it will take significant courage to get older and do it well. Nevertheless, time marches on. Aging happens. My attention is absorbed by difficult things. I am saddened by the self-centric evils and obsessions of our culture. But, as my personal list of fears gets longer, I never stop looking ahead with hope. I know the reality of Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Calgon radiant. Secure. Hopeful. Transformed. Transported in spirit to the “other side.”

Hope is full and green on the “other side,” where trust finds its home in Jesus Christ. Nothing compares to God and His glory and His mighty control over all plans and plots and circumstances on this planet. The “other side” is the great promise for those who can say Psalm 33:20-22: “We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You.”

As a believer, I already have a heavenly inheritance on the “other side.” Now is my temporary season to be a resident alien on earth, accepting its hardships, but trusting the Creator. While my eyes are fixed intently on that “other side,” I will enjoy the red roses of God’s daily mercies and grace, the sweet fragrance of enjoyment with God’s people, and the beauty of family and friends – all the valentines of my life made possible by God’s love.

 

Fallow Ground

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Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

After Job’s ordeal (Job 42:2-3), he says, “I know that You (God) can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted. [God] You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures My counsel without knowledge?’ [Job says] Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

I have felt a burden in recent years for women suffering infertility. Recently, I’m asking God what He wants me to do, if anything to provide support to some of these women nearby. I agree with author/ministry leader Susan Radulovacki that “they are trapped in a story they cannot escape, separated by silence, vulnerable to any suggestion that sounds promising, and often believe they are cursed.”

Susan has written an amazing book entitled Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples. I was deeply drawn into this book, not because of any fertility issues that I’ve faced, but because I was so convicted by the spiritual truths that laced every page regarding desperate and painful journeys of life. Every journey contains sustained intensity, but the infertility journey is probably a 10 on the rating scale.

What grabbed my heart was the idea of infertility being like “fallow ground,” defined as “cultivated land allowed to lie idle during the growing season.” I realize that God is the Allower of “fallow ground” in life’s journey. But, I sure don’t like idling. Like Job’s heart- wrenching journey, intense journeys are sometimes required for us to learn that God can be trusted and that His plans are perfect. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” This is one of my favorite scriptures. But in the matter of infertility, it poses a big problem. Yes, God knows the plans; but I don’t. “Fallow ground” isn’t for sissies against the backdrop of biological clocks. Remember Sarah’s and Abraham’s journey.

With a slightly different twist, Radulovacki goes on to compare infertility to “tilling” of land, she defines this as “preparation with the intent to wait for the ideal time.” Can God be trusted this much? For the ideal time? This reminds me of God’s perfect timing and provision in my life, that I can only see in hindsight, although I see that it was always there. All the things that might have gone devastatingly south if God had fit His plans to my own. His rescues have been endless in my life. When He has pulled back the veil to remind me of these provisions, I can always see the timely preparation that was necessarily going on. God was at work all along.

The end game really is God’s perfect plan, because we will find in the intensity that He can be trusted. Although infertility is an experience of multiplied losses, intense grief, a sense of helplessness, thoughtless questions and advice from friends, and possibly emotional separation from a spouse, we all will eventually answer the very same questions as the infertile couple seeking God in the intensity. Is God really faithful? Should I have faith or hold onto my illusion of control? Should I admit personal weakness or lean on the power of God? Will I choose peace over fear?

Granted, it’s an excruciating leap to trust God as He is writing a much different story for us than we would ever imagine and that His story is far better than ours. In our desperation, we can see God often invites us to active waiting, actively pursuing the seeing of things the way Jesus sees, actively pursuing the choosing of things as Jesus would choose.

Thankfully we have God’s Word, His love letter to us. In it He says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). We are not consumed. A promise.

What an encouragement to know that, in God’s Word, infertility is continually shown to be a precursor to astonishing miracles. Sarah, Hannah, and the list goes on. The unthinkable death of Jesus Christ on the cross was likewise the precursor to His resurrection and our eternal salvation and deliverance from the power of sin. The unthinkable was necessary. The unthinkable was fore-ordained. The plan was the perfect plan of our trustworthy God. And, the astonishing occurred.

At the end of Susan’s book, without fail, all the couples who had authentically shared their infertility stories, chased after God to know Him better and search for answers. Like Job, they had to arrive at the realization that, no matter what the outcome, God is still the Almighty God. He promises to move toward us when we move toward Him (James 4:8). God will use our circumstances, no matter how dire, to prepare us for the gift He is planning to give us. Maybe it doesn’t end with a biological child. But, it is the plan that glorifies Him most when we draw near to Him in the intensity of despair.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Again and again, I have had to remind myself that all things includes very good things and very bad things. The good God works is my eternal good. If I believe that, then the journey of fallow ground or tilling, though possibly turbulent and not dream-come-true, ends with God’s perfect plan, and not mine. Then God Himself becomes the center of my story, where He truly belongs, and He becomes my actual dream-come-true.

 

 

 

Best for Body, Mind, and Soul

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Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” Despite Einstein’s resistance to biblical truth and faith in Jesus Christ, there is what I call “common grace” wisdom in these words that moves beyond body and mind to the core of the soul. Let’s consider…

I Peter 1:17-19 says, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” We were redeemed with the imperishable gift of the Lamb who was slain to remove us from the bondage of sin and eternal darkness apart from our Creator. The imperishable gift came to us at Christmas time. It’s really the only gift that matters. The only gift that creates newness in our lives because of what Christ is doing in and through us for His redemptive purposes.

So, the perishables. Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury. The time of our stay on earth is fleeting and temporary. The perishables are obviously going to perish. Including our earthly bodies. As Christmas approaches, do you ever wish you could put on the brakes and bring the season back to a simple and unassuming celebration of the birth of our Savior, the imperishable gift? Without possessions and publicity? Without the checklist for success? Without the trappings of lights, tinsel, luxury?

Best for the body, mind, and “last but not least” – soul, is the wisdom found in I Peter 3:4: “But let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” Let Christmas be about what is imperishable. A simple and unassuming manner. A quiet joy. A secure stillness before the Lord. An eternal Savior, a compassionate King, the Good Shepherd of our souls, Jesus. The imperishable gift of Christmas.

I Peter 2:9-10 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

So, the perishables. About outward success. It is not about anything I can accomplish. It is about what God accomplished through the miracle birth of our Savior and His saving work accomplished on the cross. My salvation. Your salvation. We are a chosen, royal, holy people because of God’s mercy. He accomplished it. His success.

So, the perishables. About possessions. It is not about what we possess. It is about what God possesses. His people. I am thankful to be a believer, thankful to be one of His people. This is the focus of Christmas that is best for body, mind, and soul. This Christmas truly is about the “thought that counts” in gift-giving. The tangible items we exchange, are good for the soul if intended to be an expression of the love of Christ, the imperishable gift.

So, the perishables. About publicity. Surrounded by media in all its forms, the simple, unassuming retelling of the greatest story on earth is the only message that needs conveyance. God’s plan for the redemption of our souls through the incarnation. His Word. The manger. The gentle story. The powerful result. All found in God’s Word which has been preserved throughout history. The imperishable gift.

So, the perishables. Finally, about luxury. Glitter fades. Lights burn out. Parties cease. Rich food doesn’t satisfy. Excess leads to poverty of the starving soul. Trees get put away or die. Treasures get lost or forgotten. The only gift that lives on is Jesus Christ in our lives. The imperishable gift.

John 6:32-33 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He Who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ” This is the bread that is best for body, mind, and soul.

Merry Christmas!

Moderate Drought Condition

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Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

I’ve been thinking about the picture of rain loosening soil so that weeds can easily be pulled out of the ground. About the rain of God’s Word softening the soil of my heart so that the weeds of sin can be removed. Weeds that undermine my communion with God. Weeds of me-focus and my love of independence. Spiritual drought added in.

My town has recently experienced a moderate drought condition. This can also be the condition of my heart – moderate drought. Not sure what constitutes the moderate classification weather-wise, but I know it hasn’t rained significantly since the tail end of Hurricane Dorian. Dry leaves have been falling to dry ground on dry days. As far as the condition of my heart, there are likewise seasons of dryness, fruitlessness, and yes, fire hazard. I know God hasn’t left me. But, somehow I have wandered far off.

How can my heart be loosened from its moderate drought condition?

With His thoughts. Colossians 1:19-23 “For God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in Him (Jesus), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”

With His thoughts. Psalm 89:14-15 “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.”

When my thoughts enter. The longest weeds of my soul don’t often like the light. This is when my plans seem best, my solutions the only ways to get anything done. Weeds of rebellion spread out. They are now the widest roots of all – I want control. My way is the way. Enter more thoughts. My heart. Full of self-preservation and dreams of achievement. The deepest weeds. My cynicism. People are so hopeless. The deceit they’ve perpetuated. The comfort they’ve stolen. The inconveniences. The drought of my heart.

Admittedly, I don’t do yard work (I’ve said this before), so the weed analogy might seem ridiculous coming from me. I barely notice anything green except when it is missing. I do appreciate colorful flowers, but can never name them. I do love fall, but it is all about the colors and temperatures…

Yet, I still appreciate the analogy of the rain of God’s Word. Jesus is the One Who will release my heart from the choking weed of my resistance to His Lordship. By the rain of His Word, the drought is removed. The washing occurs. Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Weeding begins.

Again, His thoughts. Psalm 16:6-8 (NASB) “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. I will bless the Lord who has counseled me; indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Green pastures.

Guess what? It’s raining outside in my town now.