Archive for July, 2009

Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the time, and not be discouraged at the rests. They are not to be slurred over, not to be omitted, not to destroy the melody, not to change the keynote. If we look up, God himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.
John Ruskin

There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it.
John Ruskin

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Resting at the River’s Edge in August — Some Reading for a Hot Summer Day

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Ephesians 1:3-4

Ephesians is one of the great books we’ll read in August. It’s truly one of my favorites. I quoted the above two verses, but trust me, I had to restrain myself from quoting the whole first chapter.

We’ll read another book that is many people’s favorites: James. It’s a book chock full of practical advice and favorite verses…or at least verses you know well. How about these?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,… (1:2)

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (4:6b)

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (4:8)

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (5:16b)

We’ll also continue reading in the Old Testament, finishing the last two chapters in 1 Chronicles and then moving on to 2 Chronicles. Ezra and Nehemiah are next — you’ll read not only about the re-building of the Temple, but also about how the hearts of the Israelites were turned again toward God.

Throw about twenty Psalms into the mix and one minor prophet (Obadiah) and that’s our August reading.

Some of you may find yourself beginning to fall behind. Let me encourage you to continue reading. It’s OK to be behind. Maybe you’ll finish reading through the entire Bible in fifteen months instead of twelve — and won’t it have been wonderful to have accomplished such a thing?

Or who knows — perhaps God will provide you with a window of time in September or October or November and you’ll find yourself catching up just in time to read the Christmas story in December!

Take a summer break and read some Scripture! The beach would be a nice location! Enjoy!

To download a PDF of August’s reading schedule, click here.

08AugReading

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I love it when God is clear! I don’t  always love the message I receive clearly, but I love it when “coincidences” make it evident that He is teaching me something. In the past thirty hours, God has spoken the same message to me three times, from three different sources. In each case, I was doing something that I hadn’t planned to do.

Punch 1) Yesterday, Phil & I drove to Cleveland. As we often do, we picked up a book before we left so that we could spend the travel time reading to one another and discussing what we had read. We picked up a book we had started during our Emergency Room visits and hospital stays while Phil was recovering from his heart attacks. When we returned to a more normal life, the book was laid aside, never finished.

The book is called Worthy Vessels, Clay in the Hands of the Master Potter. The author, Nell Kennedy, spent years learning about pottery from master potters. She then applies those lessons to the relationship between the Master Potter and His clay. We are finding it fascinating reading. It turned out that the last time we read, we left off at the beginning of a chapter about rest and solitude. The chapter included a long narrative about George Washington Carver. Carver spent long periods of time in solitude out in nature and it was during that time that God spoke to him and essentially used him to turn the US economy around in 1921. 

“Rest is a stabilizer that gives balance to life. It is often in the resting that the remainder of life takes on meaning.”
          Worthy Vessels, p. 52

“There is power in being still…It is in the stillness that we hear the voice or God. Through times in which we are forced to rest, God shapes us and uses us.”
          Worthy Vessels, pps. 61-62.

Punch 2) That was yesterday. Today, I went to have my hair cut and colored. Again, I picked up a book to read while waiting. It was a book I had started a long time ago but, like Worthy Vessels, it had been set aside for some time. The book is titled Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation and was written by Ruth Haley Barton. When I opened it to my bookmark, I found myself at a chapter titled “Solitude, Creating Space for God.” In writing about her first experience with extended solitude, Barton says:

“All of a sudden I was awake and alert to a level of overstimulation and exhaustion that I had come to associate with normal Christian living.”
          Sacred Rhythms, p. 30

She goes on to discuss the great toll that technology has on us. She’s not against technology, she simply recognizes that constantly being “available” via cell phones, e-mail, texting, twittering, etc., takes its toll: 

“Constant noise, interruption and drevenness to be more productive cut us off from or at least interrupt the direct experience of God and other human beings, and this is more isolating than we realize. Because we are experiencing less meaningful human and divine connection, we are emptier relationally, and we try harder and harder to fill that loneliness with even more noise and stimulation. In so doing we lose touch with the quieter and more subtle experiences of God within…Solitude is an opportunity to interrupt this cycle by turning off the noise and stimulation of our lives so that we can hear our loneliness and our longing calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing.”
          Sacred Rhythms, p. 36

Do you see the relationship between rest and solitude? Both books addressed both issues, and they are interwoven such that you or I cannot fully experience one without the other.

Punch 3) So feeling a little bruised this evening, I wanted to read a Psalm. I looked at the Resting at the River’s Edge schedule and saw that we are slated to return to Psalms on Wednesday, beginning with Psalm 90. Great! I thought. I’ll just read ahead a little. I came to the following verse in Psalm 90:

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
          Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

 Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.
          Psalm 90:12 (NLT)

I am convinced that in the heart of God, numbering our days aright, making the most of our time, doesn’t just mean planning how we are to accomplish everything on our To Do lists and following that plan well. It doesn’t even mean planning how we are to accomplish everything we understand to be God’s plan for our lives. 

The heart of wisdom is gained not so much by doing for God as it is from being with God.

The heart of wisdom is gained through rest and solitude, when God can speak into the silence and we can hear without distraction.

Lord, I long for more of you that can only be found in solitude and rest. Lord, teach ME to number my days aright, so that I might gain a heart of wisdom.

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God cares! He must because He chose to preserve it for us to read!

I’ll be honest with you…sometimes that reading is more like slogging through mud for me! I’ve found, though, that there are some precious things to be found in mud, though. There are some beautiful flowers that grow in/near mud – like lotuses, water lilies, marsh orchids and sea lavender. When I’m in slogging mode, though, I know that I don’t always pause to notice them.

aquatic plant

In my reading of Chronicles, I try to look for the beautiful blossoms. For example, when reading all those lists of names, I don’t pronounce each name in my head. I skim the material looking for names I recognize from my reading of Kings. Sometimes the process brings an “oh, yeah!” moment. Not quite an “ah ha!” moment, but a familiar, “look at that connection” moment. Now the truth is that all these names run together for me and I don’t in any way feel prompted to study the genealogies, but occasionally something jumps out at me.

I also look for passages that break the pattern. That’s how you’ll find the prayer of Jabez. Stuck right there in verses 9 and 10 of 1 Chronicles 4, in the midst of chapters and chapters of genealogies, we learn about an honorable man who was named Jabez because he born in pain. Jabez cried out to God “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” The end of the verse speaks for itself: “And God granted his request.” There’s a whole book (or two or three) in those two verses!

A break in the pattern is also how I found 1 Chronicles 2:7: “Achar, who brought trouble on Israel by violating the ban on taking devoted things.” I read this verse and it prompted an immediate prayer in my heart: “Lord, I don’t want to be remembered for all posterity as one who disobeyed You. Keep me devoted to You.”

Friends, let me encourage you not to get stuck in the mud as you read through 1 and 2 Chronicles. Don’t belabor the chapters, but look for hidden treasure. Sometimes it’s closer to the surface than you might expect!

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 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me.

5“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! 8My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father.
          John 15:1-8 (NLT)

Notice that both the branches that bear fruit and those that don’t experience death. Obviously those that don’t produce fruit are cut off from their root system and eventually die. But even those that bear fruit – those that produce good fruit – will experience a death through pruning. Pruning involves cutting off healthy branches to enable the tree to grow more, healthier fruit and branches. Again, that which is cut off will be left to die.

I was thinking about how I might illustrate this if I were to preach it. There’s a florist in the business networking group I meet with weekly. If I were to ask him to bring me one rose each week, by the end of a month, I’d have four roses in various stages of dying. All four of them would have been cut off from their root system, so they are no longer receiving life-giving nourishment. Imagine the four roses lined up in front of you in four clear vases.

  • The first rose I received would undoubtedly be dead or near death.
  • The second rose is showing signs of weakness – it’s brown around the edges and drooping.
  • The third rose still has good color, but when you touch it, you can tell that it has become weak. The stem isn’t as firm and strong as it was when I first got it and the leaves droop a bit.
  • The last rose I received is vibrant in color and strong enough to stand in the vase without assistance. Yet cut off from its roots, we know that soon it will look like the first rose.

That’s what Jesus is saying. That He is our root system and when we are cut off – when we do not remain in Him – we weaken and eventually die. The longer we are away from our “vine”, the weaker we are. The roses that are two or three weeks old are so easily broken. Just barely touching them will cause their leaves and petals to fall off. The new rose doesn’t break so easily.

New fruit, new buds, don’t appear on the cut flowers. Likewise, we cannot be fruitful apart from God. But when we remain in Christ, God prunes us so that what become more fruitful. We cannot be fruitful apart from Him, but in Him, our fruitfulness is multiplied. I love verse 8 – our fruitfulness, which is a result of staying near Jesus, brings great glory to God. He prunes us for greater fruitfulness and it brings Him great glory. Hallelujah!

Pruning is painful, but fruitfulness brings rejoicing. I’m reminded of this verse:

Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
          Psalms 30:5b

 The word that is translated “joy” here means shouting with joy or great rejoicing. Pruning is not pleasant, but praise God, He will be glorified by our increased fruitfulness.

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 That’s how the enemy works and I see it in myself this evening…

I’m a few days behind in my Resting at the River’s Edge reading, and I read John 15 and 16 this morning. I so enjoyed John 15, especially, that I wanted to write a blog about it, but I was crunched for time and had to get to work. So all day I’ve been looking forward to this evening when I knew I’d have the house to myself and I could look at the passage more closely.

Somehow it’s not working. Since I sat down, I’ve struggled to stay focused.

First, I was having a hard time “centering” myself – letting go of the day’s distractions and focusing on the Lord. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply and sang a worship song to myself and the Lord. That helped a lot. (Or at least I thought so.)

I thought I’d read the final chapters of 2 Kings before writing the blog. Once I started reading, I found my mind flooded with one temptation after another. I was successful at fighting them off, more or less. (I promised myself that I’d succumb to one of them, but not until after I’d finished reading and writing.)

After most of the temptations subsided (they still try to sneak in), I suddenly find that I have a desire to do half a dozen different tasks that I usually hate doing. Of course, each one of them needs to be done because they’re tasks I always put off. It’s really frustrating that I actually WANT to do them now. Hey, if I’m really in the mood to clean my office now (for example), I ought to do it because I’m never in the mood to do that and I’ll accomplish more in less time and I’ll do a more thorough job, right? Somehow, I don’t think that’s what I’m supposed to be doing right now. This is the time give to me by God and set aside to read and study.

What in the world happened to the anticipation I’ve had all day about spending this time with the Lord? Aargh! Let’s see, first there was frantic brain, then there were various temptations, now there are these thoughts and desires to do long-needed tasks.

So finally I decide to sit back and think about how this just doesn’t seem to be working tonight and I realize that I’m being hit with a classic three-punch from the enemy – distraction, temptation and re-direction.

  • Distraction – When the enemy can bring confusion or a sense of franticness into my life, I am disabled for some period of time.
  • Temptation – I suppose I hardly need to say anything about temptation. We all know it and we probably all recognize it – at least in its blatant form. Temptation is when I want something I shouldn’t have.
  • Re-direction – Redirection may be a form of temptation in that I’m tempted to do something different, but it doesn’t involve anything that I shouldn’t do or have. Rather, it’s simply changing my focus from what’s best to something else that’s good.

Knowing how the enemy works helps us to thwart his plans. It allows us to recognize his hand at work and take action to avoid falling into the traps he is setting. Tonight was easy for me to recognize because it was so unrelenting. And eventually I realized that it was the Holy Spirit focusing my attention on the ways of the enemy for a short time.

That’s how the enemy tries to work (and sometimes succeeds) in my life. How about yours? Learning how he is most successful at sidetracking you will help you to beat him at his own game.

Remember, no matter what his ploy, “the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4b, NLT).

Now it’s back to John 15 for me. All this distraction makes me think that perhaps God has something really good for me tonight. If so, I’ll share it with you tomorrow!

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No one will ever know the full depth of his capacity for patience and humility as long as nothing bothers him. It is only when times are troubled and difficult that he can see how much of either is in him.
          Saint Francis of Assisi
 

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A friend e-mailed me after my last blog saying that it was just the message she needed that day. She had a great line in her e-mail, though – much better than any of the lines in my blog.

“…your blog message said what I needed to hear,” She wrote. “It changed my perspective. God was not testing my patience. He was growing my patience.”

I love that line – not testing my patience, but growing it. What a great way to look at it. Thinking and saying “God is growing my patience” carries a hugely different message than “God is testing my patience.”

God has been speaking to me about perspective a great deal over the past four months or so. There is ALWAYS more than one way to view the circumstances around us and we ALWAYS have a choice about how we will view them.

Here’s a another example of God adjusting my perspective: A few weeks ago I laughed out loud at myself while working. I have a big honking computer monitor on my desk. In my “real job,” I sit at my desk all day, every day, and I use software that can take up more than a third of the screen with menus and options. So about a year ago we invested in a large monitor. It’s wonderful. I love it. It makes my life so much easier. Most of the time. A few weeks ago I was working from a typed list of numbers to the left of my keyboard and monitor, looking for the number in a list of numbers displayed on my monitor, putting my cursor on that number, then moving to the far right of my monitor to click on an option. An easy process, but because my monitor is so large I was moving my head back and forth like I was watching a tennis match, and I was finding it difficult to keep my place on the sheet of paper and in the document on my screen. After doing this for awhile I was starting to get frustrated. That’s when I laughed. Here I was getting annoyed because I have this wonderful monitor that is so big I actually have to turn my head to use it. Upon realizing my foolishness – that I was becoming annoyed at a blessing – I changed my approach to the job at hand and went on about my business rejoicing about my wonderful monitor instead of being frustrated by it.

About the same time, I read an article by Jeffrey Gitomer about viewing problems as “Wow!” opportunities. It’s a short article and worth reading. Near the end of the article he writes:

“WOW! is now a thought changer, and a mental refocus from a negative that forces a positive response or action. If that’s not a WOW!, what is? And here’s the cool part: you can begin to WOW!, NOW!”

“Thought changer.” If I remember correctly, that’s what being in Christ is all about:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
Romans 12:2a (New Living Translation)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Romans 12:2a (New International Version)

God has allowed things into your life and mine to help conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and transform our thinking. It is when our mind has been renewed, when our thinking has been transformed…

Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.
Romans 12:2b (New Living Translation)

That is when we begin to see the world through the eyes and mind of the Lord. That is when we laugh in the face of difficult circumstances, knowing that they have already been overcome by the Lord and that they are meant for our good.

Lord, continue to change my perspective when it needs to be changed. Keep me looking upward in the face of all frustrations and challenges the day might bring.

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I was talking to an appliance last night when God decided to enter the conversation. It was a short conversation, but I thought blog-worthy.It was late, I was tired, and the appliance wasn’t cooperating. I had taken some of the gadgets off and was trying to put them back on so I could put it away. Like I said, it wasn’t cooperating. That was when I started talking to it. To my credit, I suppose, I only said something like “Come on….I don’t have the patience for this.” And God decided to respond for the appliance. It was a simple sentence. “That’s when you need patience,” He spoke into my head.That’s all. “That’s when you need patience.” It had several affects on me.

First, it relieved my stress immediately. I had been a bit harried, wanting to be done with the day so I could relax a little before I needed to go to bed. His simple act of speaking to me said as much as His words. “Chill out; relax,” was the impact that His words had. It reminded me that He was there and that He was in control.

Then, of course, there was the content of His words. I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit. Yes, it was a simple sentence, but you don’t want to gloss over it when God speaks to you.

It didn’t take long (I was still sitting with the disassembled appliance) for me to realize that you don’t need patience when you don’t need patience. Duh! And you don’t learn patience when you have all that you need. Actually, in my having-just-been-spoken-to-by-God state, I was kind of awed by this. Maybe I’m just easily impressed when I’m tired, but it’s pretty fundamental that the only way to grow in patience is to be taken beyond the point where we are comfortably patient. Fundamental, yes…but so easily forgotten. I don’t usually go through life with that perspective in the front of my mind. Even when I read those great passages about patience, they seem to have such a “supernatural” perspective to them. Like God will just bestow me with supernatural patience. Well, He might, at times when supernatural patience is required. But most of the time, learning patience is a process of regularly being taken beyond the level of patience I have so that I learn to have more.

There was one other thing about God’s communication. It made me realize (again) that God uses the everyday things and people in our lives to help us to become more like Jesus. That’s blog-worthy and praise-worthy.

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Rationalization: It’s what we do when we substitute false explanations for true reasons. . . when we cloud our actual motives with a smoke screen of nice-sounding excuses.
         
Charles R. Swindoll
 

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