January 2012

Despise not the day of small things!

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. Zechariah 4:10 (ESV)

Great things all share one thing in common. They once were all small. Great countries, cities, companies, families, inventions and accomplishments, yes even the people behind them, all began as small things. In their smallness they were once vulnerable and dependent upon favorable conditions to sustain them. They exist today because someone envisioned a preferred future for them beyond their smallness. Someone in fact actually took such delight in their smallness that they were willing not only to patiently endure their smallness, but to invest their very lives in nurturing that smallness to grow toward greatness. That is precisely what God has done for us.

Although smallness takes many forms, there is always a redemptive quality about it when viewed as a beginning. It can be a small bank account, a small talent, a small job, a small home, a small circle of friends or even a small heart of love and compassion.

Smallness at its irreducible minimum is merely a seed thought or idea. And as with any good seed that envisions its beholder with the possibility of things to come, it engenders hope.

God loves smallness. So should we. Smallness is not something to be despised or merely to be endured. It is something in which we are meant to genuinely rejoice.

It might be said that smallness is next to Godliness. Mother Theresa underscored this truth when she said “We can do no great things, only small things with great love. . . Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” The truth is God’s plan for great things always begins with small things – an act of love, a seed-thought promise, a baby in the bulrushes or a man with a vision holding a plumb line.

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12 things I have lived long enough to know

The repetitive nature of the daily news is an indication of how old a person is getting and hopefully an impetus to garner some wisdom from it all. Recently I realized I’ve been ingesting a regurgitation of the same sound bites for over 50 years. How could it be that I’ve spent my entire life monitoring global hotspots in Africa and the Middle East, sword rattling over oil supplies and nuclear weapons, uncertain market forecasts, political campaign mudslinging, dastardly mind-boggling crimes and the latest woes of local sports teams?

I couldn’t help but think of the writer of Ecclesiastes, who looking back over his long life threw his hands up in frustration and said “Meaningless, meaningless . . . Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:2) Then he asks the question of the ages: “What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (1:3) This question essentially frames the answers he paints on the canvas of the rest of the book

I’ve taken some of those brush strokes of wisdom to embellish a sampling of what I’ve learned from my many years of making meaning of the repetitious nature of life.

I am calling them twelve things I’ve lived long enough to know . . .

1. Increasing the number of channels will never solve the problem of why there isn’t anything worth watching on TV. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. (1:8)

2. Living through a Southeast Asian war, a cold war and several Gulf wars has convinced me there will always be oppressors and attempts to dethrone them. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. (1:9 NLT) Jesus: You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. (Matthew 24:6)

3. Doing what you love to do is the most rewarding employment there is. So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here. (3:22 NLT)

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The Blessings of Trouble

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” Hosea 2:14-15 (NIV)

When you stop and think about it, this is one of God’s most unusual promises. It is not a promise most people have high-lighted in their Bibles and are claiming as their own. It was written by the prophet Hosea to the wayward northern kingdom of Israel during the period of time when it fell to the Assyrians. (722-721 BC) It reveals however a very important strategy that God uses to effect positive change in our lives.

The Valley of Achor to which Hosea is referring is not a place anyone would want to be. First off it was a hot, dry, dusty desert location. And secondly the Valley of Achor literally means the valley of “trouble.” It was the infamous place where the Israelites, led by Joshua, stoned Achan and his family for stealing the devoted things from the battle of Jericho. In Israeli history the Valley of Achor was a place of shame.

And yet in the wisdom and purposes of God there is really no better setting for God to extend His redemptive grace and change the heart of stubborn Israel. In God’s economy a desert location becomes the perfect spot for whispers of love and a valley of trouble turns into the timely circumstance to offer hope.

Troubling times can have a positive redemptive effect us if we respond appropriately. Troubles have a way of getting our attention and accelerating change like few other things in our lives. And more importantly, they should draw us closer to God as we seek His consolation and guidance.

From a divine perspective, a valley of trouble, as it was for Israel, just might be one of the best things that could happen to us. It forces us like nothing else to reprioritize are lives with regard to things, people and God.

So from God’s perspective here are five blessings of trouble.

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The Test of the Golden Rule

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Jesus (Luke 6:31)

Yesterday my daughter dropped her wallet in a Target parking lot at midday while trying to load her purchases and two little girls into her car. By the time she had returned home, realized it was missing, retraced her steps, talked to Target security, had them verify from their cameras she placed it in her coat pocket at check out, and finally called her credit card company, whoever found the wallet already had two charges on her card, including pumping $75 worth of gasoline into the behemoth they had to be driving.

People who have no sensitivity to the Golden Rule, i.e. can’t put themselves in the shoes of someone who loses a wallet and have the common courtesy to seek to find its rightful owner, really baffle me. Now I’ll admit my initial reaction to hearing about this person without a conscience really made me mad. Ironically it triggered something in me that caused me to violate a golden teaching of Jesus myself by cursing that person rather than blessing them. (Matthew 5:44) It is true that the anger of man seldom produces the righteousness of God and it always amazes me how quickly one can become a Pharisee. (James 1:20)

I am genuinely puzzled however as to what kind of person would have such a disregard for the Golden Rule. Most commonly defined as “doing to others as you would have them do to you” and epitomized by Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” the so called Golden Rule is not just unique to Judeo-Christian teaching. It is a bedrock ethic of human relationship that is found in every other world religion including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism.
. . . The test of the Golden Rule is in how a person chooses to apply it. The rule was given as a measure of one’s own life rather than to measure the life of another. Whenever we point the finger at Golden Rule breakers there are three fingers pointing back at us. And that means we must seek to treat them the way we would like to be treated if we were them.

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Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er; Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! Oh, for grace to trust Him more! Louisa M. R. Stead

Last week I went through the process of having my first full body radioactive scan since having my cancerous thyroid removed a year and a half ago. As with any test procedure looking for signs of the dreaded “c” it can be stressful. Any accompanying fear and anxiety are acerbated by the infernal, seemingly interminable wait for the results.

It’s been said that war is hell and doubtless waiting for test results is at the very least akin to purgatory. Such waiting could be likened walking a gauntlet of faith with fires of doubt, fueled by rampant negative scenarios, licking at your heels.

This time around, in the midst of my wrestlings of soul the Lord brought to mind the title of the old hymn “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.” As only God can do those simple words ministered faith to me and restored my peace and sanity.

Life’s journeys have a way of bringing all of us to an occasional bitter pool. Invariably we stumble upon bitter experiences when we least expect it and they can have a way rocking us and our faith to our very core. Disease, major disappointments and losses have that effect upon us. At a time when we thirst for sweet water to refresh our weary souls, it seems like all we have to draw from is bitter.

Ironically that is exactly what happened to the Israelites immediately after their miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians when they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. Three days of wandering in the desert brought them to the bitter waters of Marah. Famished by thirst they all grumbled “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:23)

But God allowed this to teach them and us a foundational truth about dealing with the bitter experiences of life. “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” (Exodus 15:25) That “piece of wood” is an Old Testament foreshadowing of the Messiah who was to come and the wooden cross that he would bear. The cross, representing Christ’s great covenant sacrifice for sin and our salvation, would have the power to heal and make every bitter thing sweet.

Sometimes when we are standing at a bitter pool and crying out to God as Moses did, it seems like that piece of wood and its transforming results are nowhere to be found. In fact no matter how diligently we ask and seek and knock, the bread we so desperately want is still a rock and the fish still feels like a scaly snake. But Jesus assures us that the heavenly Father will give us what we long for if we persist. And indeed, when we hold a stone long enough, it will eventually turn into bread, and that scary squirmy snake will turn out to really be a fish. (Matthew 7:7-11)

From personal experience I’ve found that to be true. Yesterday after five days of holding a snake by faith it became a fish and I finally got my test results back with a clean bill of health. All praise and glory to God!

One of the great mysteries of God is the way in which He uses the bitter experiences of life to bring sweetness to our soul. And it is likewise awe inspiring to observe how God can take something born of tragedy and nurture it into becoming a life sustaining blessing.

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