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The Missing Piece

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels



What are you seeking?

For many around the world it has been a year of seeking a solution, a way out from the unending bad news. Pandemic fears have spiraled up and down, but never really left most of us in the world. News reports (often with flaws or incomplete information) have fed our anxiety. Just about the time it appears things might be improving we hear warnings about the season ahead and more reasons to be uncertain loom large again.

Beyond the illness itself, the fear and the isolation have brought about more searching and too often, more hopelessness. We have seen injustices of all types, persecution growing worldwide, and storms raging across the natural world destroying forests, fields, lives, and hope. Storms have also been raging within increasing division and hatred, violence and anarchy in places far and wide.

And what has been our response as individuals? What grade would you give yourself? My answer would vary and not be as stellar as I would like.

And why has this generation around the globe struggled so greatly with the challenges it faces? Certainly, many generations before us have faced challenges no less daunting and come out on the other side. Are we so accustomed to ignoring things we don’t like or that quick solutions will come that we have lost the capacity to endure?

Perhaps that is true. Many in the world live in the age of almost instant anything. We microwave our food, use instant messaging and see videos of the latest crime from someone’s phone before a news report with all the facts even is on air. We tend to be impatient people and I wonder if we are looking in all the wrong places for the thing we most want and need.

Those who came before us were simpler in many ways and we can be tempted to scoff at that, but it gave them an advantage. They were clearer on the need to look at a power greater than themselves and call on God. Is that because they saw themselves more accurately and humbled themselves by acknowledging that they did not have answers to what was besetting the world?

Have our churches too often fallen prey to following a program or structure that works while missing what is unfolding in the world around them and the role they are called to play?

Yes, we are called to serve, to feed the hungry, visit those in prison, pray for the sick, and love one another, but we are also admonished in the Bible to pray for those in authority over us both in church polity and civil governments as well. Have we forgotten the gift and power of prayer and how we are to be steadfast in using it?

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Paul’s words to Timothy were written in the time of the brutality of the Roman Empire and how much we might learn from what he exhorts the believers of that time.

We choose sides and look to men to solve problems that have escalated to a point where no human can resolve them. Too much hatred, fear, anger, resentment, pride, bias, self-righteousness, ignorance, and more fill our hearts and minds and feed division that causes hope to fade a bit more each day.

In days of old when a king faced such times he would call and ask if there was not a man who could hear from God to point the way when there appeared to be no way. In times gone by pulpits would be filled with a call for the church to repent for the sins that so easily beset us all. And if those words were heeded, revival would sweep through the land and sometimes around the world and for a time, mankind would remember he is not sovereign over the world except as God allows.

Men like Charles H. Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield’s voices (as well as others) called believers to account and called those who did not know God to the source of hope that kept them going during hard times. In more modern times Billy Graham filled stadiums around the world offering hope in Christ and a call to repent. And so many miss his voice, but this past weekend his son stepped into the place of his father and called for those who would, to come to Washington D.C. for a prayer walk around the nation’s capital seeking God to forgive us for the many ways we have forgotten the faith of those who came on the Mayflower to start this nation and to pray for the world.

It was a clarion call amplified by the shofar being blown by another group of believers God led to come to pray for the nation and world as well. It was a call to remember the Bible told us that “in the latter days” perilous times would come, but even as Christ told those who follow Him what to expect He also offered the path of light by urging us to repent and seek God above all others and be prepared to show his light to the world shrouded in darkness in such times.

In some places in the world persecution rivals ancient history for those who believe in God or do not accept the ideology of a leader or nation. Should we not take heed lest we fall as well?

No leader is perfect enough to lead perfectly save Christ alone, but no leader can serve well without the prayers of those he is to serve. There is no escape clause that says we are not to pray if we don’t prefer the person. It is not about nationalism in any country or denominationalism that we are called to pray, but rather about the sinfulness of mankind that still clings to us absent mercy and grace.

The voices calling for repentance as individuals, churches, and nations are growing louder. Will we listen? Will we recognize that it is a call to each one of us no matter what nation we live in, no matter what church we are a part of or even whether or not that church has responded to the call in this time?

Edward Mote penned these lyrics in 1834 as part of his well-known hymn. May they be true for each of us:

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ, my righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

From My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

Promises

Pixabay

Everywhere I look there are ads. They pop up on my computer, fill my email inbox, gobble up space in my favorite magazine, fill my mailbox, interrupt the program I am watching on TV, and clutter the landscape along the roads I drive. And it isn’t just my eyes they try to capture. They bombard my ears on every radio station and most music streaming and audio podcasts as well.

Each ad tries to sell me something or persuade me to try or accept something or someone. Each offers a promise for something they believe I will want or that they try to entice me to want.

What is a promise anyway? The dictionary offers definitions for the word when it is used as a noun as well as when it is used as a verb. As a noun it means: “a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen.” When the word is used as a verb, it means “assure someone that one will definitely do, give, or arrange.”

Most of us come face-to-face with promises when we are very young children and our faith in the promise is sure, but we quickly discover that the word promise doesn’t mean a lot to many who promise us something. It tempts us to make promises we are not wholly committed to keeping as well.

Depending on what we experience from childhood onward into adulthood, we are often skeptical about any promise offered us. Trust broken early on childhood promises makes trust harder to give another time.

We would like to believe a promise, but it becomes increasingly difficult. Some of the promises nudge us to try trusting in the product or person one more time, but even with prayers and fingers crossed we sometimes are once again disappointed. Then we can chide ourselves for believing the promise.

Once upon a time “a man’s word was his bond” or so we have heard. Commitments were kept and often sealed with various symbols or even a handshake in more recent times. This principle’s origin goes back to the 1500’s when merchant traders made agreements before written pledges were established.

We might wish this principle were still valued today, but we would need to then abide by it as well. It can often be easier to exact a promise than to make one we are wholly committed to. If you need proof of that, a recent check on divorce statistics or headlines about broken contracts by big companies and enterprises will provide it.

Unfortunately, our experiences with promises has an impact on promises made regarding our religious faith. When someone I can see and even do a background check on is not trustworthy to keep a promise, how can I trust an unseen God to believe the promises He makes?

But you see we can actually do a lot of background checking on God as well. The Bible offers multiple centuries of history in the stories we read that are often confirmed by historians like Josephus that support the view that God is a promise keeper. If we do not read the whole of the texts and gain the context and study the meaning, we might risk arguing but that would be to our detriment since the evidence is on his side.

God sealed his pledges in covenants over and over again in various ways and means. Some are still able to be seen today with our own eyes such as when a radiant rainbow arches over the sky to remind us God has promised to never destroy the world again by means of a flood.

The greatest of God’s pledges was the blood covenant of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross so those who believe will never die and live forever in eternity with Him. Our challenge is to risk believing in the promise by faith and to study God’s history to know the truth of his character.

As I was driving to church recently, the words of an old hymn came to mind. I recall it being sung often in the little country church where I grew up. Some of you might know it well also. Its title is “Standing on the Promises.” As with so many of those hymns heard and sung often while I was growing up, the words can come to mind even though I may not have sung the song in many years.

The words of the verses and refrain of this one are these:

Standing on the promises of Christ my King, 
Through eternal ages let His praises ring, 
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing, 
Standing on the promises of God.

Refrain:
Standing, standing, 
Standing on the promises of God my Savior; 
Standing, standing, 
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail, 
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, 
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see 
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me; 
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free, 
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord, 
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord, 
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword, 
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall, 
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call 
Resting in my Saviour as my all in all, 
Standing on the promises of God.

I am often curious about the one who penned the words of a hymn and if you look at this one by composer Russell Kelso Carter (1849-1928), you will discover the words reflect his personal experience. His history is one of an outstanding student and athlete who committed his life to Christ at the age of 15. Later he would become an instructor and then an ordained Methodist minister, but he didn’t stop there and ultimately became a medical doctor.

At the age of 30, Carter was diagnosed with a critical heart condition and faced imminent death. His response was to kneel and pray, asking God to heal him, but also promising God that no matter how He chose to answer that prayer he would forever consecrate his life and service to the Lord.

God chose to answer that prayer with healing and gave Carter a healthy heart that allowed him to go on living for another 49 years. In an article by Lynda Schultz in Thrive about this she writes as follows:

“In the end, Carter came to the conclusion that healing was God’s choice to make and that God also chose the instruments through which that healing, if granted, would come. His hymn was a personal testimony to his faith,”

Lynda Schultz in Thrive

What is the personal testimony of our faith today?

What promises are we standing on?

Photo by Rob Blair

Times and Seasons

Some of us relish a variety of seasonal climatic change and variety and can (or make a choice) to live in a place where we can experience the flow of spring to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter, and winter to spring, savoring the gifts of each season. I am one of those who love to see how each season unfolds, each being distinct from the other.

I am also aware that some have a strong preference of quite a different kind and like an almost perpetual summer. That is neither good nor bad, but simply a preference.

Each of us looks at time differently as well. Some of us prefer an unstructured use of time. We like to “go with the flow” while others like a more ordered scheduled way to handle time. There are many factors that can influence these preferences as well. A challenge in this area is when a clash of these views of time happen with people living together or working in an office together.

2020 has likely stretched all of us on these two areas with what this year has handed us no matter where we may live. King Solomon makes clear in Ecclesiastes 3 there is a season or time for “every activity under heaven” and in verse 11 of that chapter adds “God has made everything beautiful in its own time.” This year has tested our view of that when our plans have been altered or canceled entirely. We would especially find it hard to say “everything beautiful” in connection with 2020 perhaps.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson from Pexels



We have often been watching from inside during the year and unsure of what good things we could say about the world around us more than many other years, times, and seasons.

I certainly can agree with that.

A favorite author of mine, Francine Rivers, offers a keen observation on this:

“What looks wrong, out of sync, or just plain ugly to us is simply unfinished to God. His plans are not yet complete. He has the ability to bring beauty out of everything – in its perfect time, which He alone determines.”

From Earth Psalms by Francine Rivers

And there is the rub for us to grapple with – it’s HIS time, perfect timing. Although we may know a bit about that to one degree or another, it can still be difficult to be accepting of how much about times and seasons are outside of our control.

There is much that our Creator has given us choice about, but not all things.

“Some things we have choice in, some we don’t… It is the kind of world into which we were born. God created it. God sustains it.”

From Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson

It reminds me of what David says in Psalm 31: 15:

“My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors.”

Psalm 31:15 (ESV)

David’s life and the heroic tales related to it is punctuated with grief and sorrow and malicious enemies pursuing him. Maybe it was this that caused him to understand that he had no other refuge except his faith in God which he references in verse 14 just prior to the one quoted here – “But I trust in you, O Lord…”

Charles Spurgeon spoke of this passage and the issue of times and seasons in a sermon in May of 1891 and shows us toward the path of understanding:

“The great truth is this – all that concerns the believer is in the hands of Almighty God. “My times”, these change and shift; but they change only in accordance with unchanging love, and they shift only according to the purpose of One with Whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. “My times”, that is to say, my ups and downs, my health and my sickness, my poverty and my wealth – all those are in the hand of the Lord, who arranges and appoints according to his holy will the length of my days, and the darkness of my nights. Storms and calms vary the seasons at the divine appointment. Whether times are reviving or depressing remains with him who is Lord both of time and eternity; and we are glad it is so.”

From a sermon, “My Times Are in Thy Hand”, by Charles H. Spurgeon May 17, 1891

It is not in our purview to have the wisdom and knowledge of what fits best for us in his plans and purposes for us from beginning to end. Though we may sense God’s leading and calling on our lives, it is something that often evolves over time as doors close or open to guide us.

“Even in hindsight we don’t always see all the unseen forces at work in our lives. We aren’t always meant to.”

Patti Callahan Henry

As this calendar year (for whatever it may be) marches forward, it is but one part of our story, and one part of God’s bigger story that unfolds toward the conclusion He has had in mind from the beginning – before time began. He will surely bring it to pass according to that plan even as history shows He has done from the beginning.

Photo by Rob Blair

He Speaks Life

Those of us who love to travel to refresh and regain perspective often prefer either the beach or the mountains even though we may enjoy both. My husband and I have enjoyed both, but we are drawn more to the mountains. We especially love the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada and have traveled there often in our vacation adventures.

These mountains and the trails we have walked remind us of the greatness of God and “the rock” that He is for us to stand on and build our own faith and life upon.

One of the delights of my heart as we travel in the mountains is discovering in the midst of all the rocky crags, glaciers, and forests, God tucks little pieces of color here and there through various flowers that reminds me again and again that from the beginning God speaks life! With the exception of humankind whom He handcrafted from the earth; He spoke every other thing into existence.

He spoke those wondrous mountains into existence, and He spoke the crashing waves upon the seas as well. The stars, sun, and moon above us were created with just a word from Him. Each delicate creature, plant, and organism came when He spoke life!

Death came upon the earth through evil that came in the garden when Lucifer sought to change the course of man and oppose all life.

When one of our grandsons noted recently that in 2020 it seems as if death is chasing us, it provoked more than a little thought. There is a battle going on, an unseen battle as real as any war fought by mankind. It is a battle between good and evil, light and darkness waged against God and all of his creation by Lucifer and his minions.

I love Eugene Peterson’s description of this truth:

“There is a spiritual war in progress, an all-out moral battle. There is evil and cruelty, brutality and pain. God is in continuous and energetic battle against all of it. God is for life and against death. God is for love and against hate. God is for hope and against despair. God is for heaven and against hell. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square foot of space is contested.”

From Run With the Horses by Eugene Peterson

That may sound grim and indeed is sobering, but for those who understand and know the grand story we are each a part of it is key to remember that if we have accepted Him and responded to his election of us, we are imbued with life.

Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (MSG)

As I write this our family is saddened by someone we loved who has walked through death and the body we knew is no longer here, but he is more alive than he has ever been. The essence of this dear friend, his spirit and soul that we cannot see, lives on. Those of us who loved him miss him, but we know this was not really the end.

Some years ago, someone came to my counseling office to process her terminal illness and what she knew lay ahead. Linda invited me into her very private thoughts and feelings as a believer who knew what the months ahead would mean. It was a gift I treasure.

She introduced me to a book by Max Lucado entitled Tell Me the Secrets filled with short chapters focusing on powerful truths written so we could see through story and metaphor more of the rich meaning within them. The last chapter is entitled “The Secret of Life” and Max Lucado sets the stage by having an older man facing death and trying to explain life and death to a group of children for whom he was a mentor and friend.

Look at the words of dialogue penned by Max Lucado that the man’s wife speaks to the children after her husband has passed from this life:

“I can’t believe he’s dead, Melva.” Landon began to cry.

“Oh, Landon, he isn’t dead. He is alive. He is more alive than he has ever been. He’s just not here.”

From Max Lucado in Tell Me the Secrets

At the end of the chapter is a note from the artist, Ron DiCianni, whose artwork is a highlight at the opening of each chapter. His words add to the truths noted above:

“Probably no topic is avoided more than death. It looms as the final enemy. But on the cross Christ defeated death and Satan. And because of His victory, death for the Christian becomes merely a doorway into eternal life.

If we could see through God’s eyes, we would see wonderful things He has in store for us in Heaven – mansions, streets of gold, the Tree of Life, the presence of Jesus!

And Jesus is preparing a place just for you (as well as for your friends, if you invite them). A perfect place, tailor-made, more beautiful than anything you could imagine.”

From Ron DiCianni in Tell Me the Secrets

God speaks life! Into humankind, He breathed life!

“God is the center from which all life develops.”

From Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson

Life

As signs of autumn begin here in the northern hemisphere, we are reminded of the passing of time in that unique way a season change brings us. Nights are cooler and the days are devoid of the humidity that drenched us in recent weeks. Sunshine still warms us and only here or there has a leaf revealed its stunning fall hue to remind us of the “big show” soon to follow where crimson, scarlet, orange, and yellow will be abundant.

It can be hard to believe that autumn has arrived. When the pandemic arrived in force earlier this year, we entered a season of waiting for it to pass or end. Spring came and went without the usual highlights of things we typically enjoyed so we waited for summer. But as the last days of summer began to ebb away with some improvement for a few of us, we were aware that much of a classic summer was absent. Many items of clothing stayed tucked in our closets or drawers because most of our time was still spent at home.

We know that we need to deal with waiting often and none of us likely would say we enjoy it. The pandemic has given us a new awareness of waiting.

This week as I was reading in The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg, I paused as I read these words of hers:

“…waiting is part of our stories – all of our stories. Adam and Eve waited, fresh fruit staining their faces, for God to discover what they had done. Noah waited for the first few delicate raindrops to pitter-patter on his odd-shaped boat. Abram waited for a promised son, Jacob waited for a promised wife, and the Israelites waited for a promised new life.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

How accurate she is in this statement. Even though we have read or know these stories of waiting, it can be easy to forget in the midst of our own times of waiting.

It can seem as if we are at a standstill when we are waiting. You know what I mean – that sense you have when you are sitting at a stop light going nowhere while you wait for the light to change so you can move. And yet time is moving us forward moment by moment into the future even if we are not aware of it, even while we are waiting.

No matter what our waiting season, life seeps in and moves along. The story we entered at birth was happening when we arrived and continues when we wait and when we exit this earthly life.

Margaret Feinberg reminds her readers in The Sacred Echo of what she describes as “two types of waiting.” There is the “personal wait” such as those noted above, but there is another wait that she calls “The Great Wait.” Look at her grand description of this:

“The first is The Great Wait – that moment when the trumpet will sound and the Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey will return on a white horse. Like townspeople in an ancient city, we wait for the return of our King who will bring with him redemption, restoration, and reward. We will celebrate wildly at the wedding of the ages – that great feast in the banquet hall of heaven that God has been preparing since the beginning of time.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

What it can be harder to remember is that God is waiting too and waiting with us. Can we possibly fathom how eager He is to have us all together around that table?

If our gaze remains focused on what surrounds us, holding fast to what we see, we will miss the glorious unseen that is more real than what we can touch, hear, taste, and see now.

So often we measure our life in milestones. These are significant markers along the way that represent accomplishments of some kind, but as we grow in wisdom and years, we come to recognize what we most often hold dear are the moments etched in our memories on days not appearing in special frames or other memorabilia.

How important it is in the midst of waiting – whether for a “personal wait” or “The Great Wait” – not to miss the moments in the middle.

One of our grandsons commented this week that during 2020 it seems like death has been chasing us. His observation came from not only the stories of the pandemic but also of the deaths of several people in his life from non- pandemic causes. For these ones, the “personal waiting” is over. Their perspective is quite different from our own. They enter eternity and all the mysteries it holds and yet they still wait “The Great Wait” and that glorious trumpet sound and wedding feast to come.

Maybe one thing is especially central for each of us in whatever waiting season we experience – what will we do in the waiting? What will we do with the moments that have been gifted to us?

Eugene Peterson offers one possibility for us to consider: