Remembering the loved one who has forgotten you

As a person ages, friends and loved ones often stop communicating as much.

Part of the problem is a busy schedule. When I worked in a nursing home ministry in college and then visited my mother-in-law in various facilities, I figured busyness was the primary reason so many residents seemed never to have a visitor.

But now I think perhaps people don’t visit elderly loved ones because they feel it’s futile since the person doesn’t even know them any more.

Dementia is one of the saddest afflictions. It’s heartbreaking when a loved one can’t remember who you are or how you are related.

But I can’t encourage you strongly enough to keep visiting. Why?

Because you remember.

Their biggest need is to know that they are loved and not forgotten. For the few minutes you spend with them, they are receiving personal attention.

We don’t know what they actually remember.

When a loved one can’t process thoughts well, we don’t really know what’s going through their minds. It could be there is a flicker of familiarity, but they can’t express it. Or they might remember, if just for a few moments, that you were there.

Assisted living and nursing home facilities can be lonely places.

Some residents are able-bodied and/or social butterflies, but many sit by themselves. Most of the activities involve bringing the group to the common area rather than doing anything with individuals  Most of these places are overworked and understaffed. We found a few gems in each facility my mother-in-law was in, but too many of the staff were burned out, uncaring, just punching a time card. We observed as they talked to each other over her without ever looking her in the eye or talking directly to her. One aide had eyes glued to the TV as she fed Jim’s mom rather than interacting with her. Can you imagine an existence where most people just handle you or do what’s necessary without a smile or a kind word?

Personal, focused, loving attention is the greatest gift you can give them.

You can’t assume they are well taken-care of.

When you visit a facility and arrange to place your loved one there, you assume the best. The administration sounds competent, the brochures look inviting. But we could tell you dozens of stories from our own experience, not to mention that of others. The residents often can’t speak for themselves. They need advocates to visit them frequently and bring any issues to the management’s attention.

When you do visit, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t ask, “Do you remember . . .” people or situations. John Zeisel calls this “testing” in his book I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. He says such questions just set them up for a test they are sure to fail and can increase anxiety, agitation, and feelings of incompetence.. Sometimes they can remember the distant past more than the recent occurrences, but don’t assume. Just start talking about the person or situation you have in mind. If your loved one remembers, they’ll chime in. Instead of asking, “Do you remember me?” just say who you are. “Hi, Mom! It’s me, Jim, and your grandson son, Jason, and great-grandson, Timothy.” Mention the names but don’t make a big deal about them.
  • “Don’t alter their reality” was the cardinal rule at the nursing home my mother-in-law was in. In our college nursing home ministry, one blind lady spoke as if she lived on a plantation, even encouraging us to pick some flowers. We didn’t know whether to go along or try to bring her back to reality. Now I would know: either go with the flow or try to bring up a different topic of conversation. If they think they are in another state, or their husband is waiting for them at home, or whatever, it only agitates them to say otherwise. When my mother-in-law was in a memory-care unit, we often saw residents get quite upset if they stopped to ask us to take them somewhere, and we said we couldn’t. We learned to say, “I’m just here visiting my mom, but maybe this lady could help you,” and point them to an aide. That was better than saying, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t take you,” and having them get upset, and an aide having to come over and calm them down.
  • Divert or distract rather than arguing. If your loved one starts asking about someone who died, or asks to be taken somewhere they can’t go, or says something that doesn’t make sense, don’t try to “talk sense into them.” Jim’s mom sometimes asked to be taken to her daughter’s house 2,000 miles away. I used to remind her that she had moved to TN. But later on, I’d just say, “We can talk about it when Jim gets home.” She was mostly silent her last two years, but she would still sometimes ask about her sister, who had died long ago. Our caregiver would say something like, “I think she’s still asleep” and then start talking about something else. We tried never to lie to her, but we did redirect the conversation.
  • Have some topics of conversation in mind before you go. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about. Family news is always good. But conversation can sputter after that. This is something I wish I had done better with my mother-in-law. I saw her almost every day, so when she would ask what’s new, sometimes all I could come up with was, “Well . . . I got the laundry done.” She loved news or little interesting tidbits or real-life stories. I wished I had looked for things like that to share with her when I visited. I also wished I had asked her more about her past.
  • Some might be able to play games, put together puzzles, do small crafts. If you have old family photos of people you can’t identity, this is a great time to bring them and ask about them.
  • Be cautious about gifts. Most times, they don’t really need or have room for anything. But if it’s a special occasion and you want to bring something, be aware of their situation. Don’t bring food unless you know they aren’t on any kind of dietary restrictions. And then bring food in a form they can eat (someone sent my mother-in-law a fruit basket, but she had no way to slice or peel any of it. She couldn’t have a knife in her room.) Cut flowers in a vase might be better than a plant no one has time to care for. Some other ideas:

All-occasion greeting cards (if they still send them)
Stationery and stamps (if they can still write)
Pens and pencils
Lotions (some might have skin sensitivities)
Bath items: nice-smelling shampoo, body wash, powder. Avoid bath oils – too slippery
Large-print books, magazines, crossword or word search puzzle books (if   they can still read)
Small individually wrapped chewable candies (if they can have them)
Small packages of cookies (ditto)
Pudding cups
Small throw blankets
Socks (slip-proof, if they are still mobile) and slippers
Magnifying glass
Tissues
Nice nightgowns or pajamas. (or hospital gowns if they are bedridden. We used this place often.)
Small photo albums with pictures of your family. (Big ones are too heavy.)
Pictures colored by a child

If you have a project-based ministry to the elderly in your congregation, please take the items to the person rather than sending them home with a loved one or dropping them off on the porch. The visit means more than the things.

What if you don’t live near your loved one?

Don’t stop communicating because you don’t think it will do any good. One lady who used to write to my mother-in-law would check with me occasionally to ask if I thought it was still worthwhile. I told her I honestly didn’t know if Jim’s mom would know who she was or would remember the note I read five minutes later, but for those few moments, she knew someone cared enough to communicate with her. We’re more inclined to send texts or Facebook greetings, but it’s worth the time to send a personal note to an elderly person who doesn’t have access to those other venues. Sometimes a FaceTime or Skype call can be set up. One of Jim’s brothers used to do this even after Jim’s mom no longer spoke. She could at least see him and his family and would sometimes wave a finger.

What if your loved one is being cared for by a family member?

It still helps to visit or at least communicate for a number of reasons. Your loved one needs to know you still remember and care for them. And it greatly encourages the one caring for them to have the rest of the family still participating. Caregiving can be weighty and lonely, and the interest and care of the rest of the family can be greatly encouraging. By contrast, it’s immensely saddening to have birthdays and Mother’s Days go by without hearing from anyone, even if the loved one doesn’t know what day it is.

It can be hard to visit an elderly loved one.

It takes time and slowing down. It’s hard to acknowledge the effect of years and to know they’re only going to keep declining. Their might be messy or smelly. My mother-in-law was easy to get along with, but some dementia patients are angry or combative. It might be easier to remember them as they were than see them as they are. Most people’s main regret when a loved one dies is that they didn’t spend more time with them. Do all you can while you can to avoid that regret. Even if they don’t remember you, you remember them. I’m not trying to heap guilt on you; I’m trying to lessen it.

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

They don’t have to remember you in order for you to minister to them. Our blessing them comes from:

1) The example of our Lord, who blesses us every day of our lives even though we can never repay Him.

2) Gratefulness because of all our loved ones did for us.

3) Doing unto others as we would want them to do to us. (Matthew 7:12)

It can be especially hard when the relationship has not been good, when issues have never been resolved and there’s no hope of dealing with them now. Some of my friends have exemplified 2 Corinthians 12:15 with their parents: “ And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.Loving like Jesus means loving people even when they don’t “deserve” it. Love costs a great deal sometimes. As we pray to love more, we can ask that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and ask God to “make [us] increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (2 Thessalonians 3:12).

I’d love to hear from you about this topic. What have you found helpful when visiting elderly family members?

(I wrote a series of posts from our experience caring for my mother-in-law called Adventures in Elder Care. If you are in a caregiving season of life, you might find something helpful there. A couple of the posts there most related to this one are Am I Doing Any Good? and It’s Not for Nothing.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home)

Organic Mentoring

What does mentoring mean to someone desiring to be mentored? Sometimes women have a specific area where they feel they need help. Some just want to have an older go-to person to ask questions.

Dictionary.com defines mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” But how do people work mentoring out into real life? Classes? Regular meetings? Shadowing?

The word “mentor” is not in the Bible—at least, not in the KJV or ESV. Probably the closest the Bible comes to the concept is discipling. The classic passage for women disciplining women is Titus 2: 3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

It’s always important to look at the context of a Bible passage, and the context here is teaching and relating life to sound doctrine (verse 1). Then the character of a teacher or mentor is addressed. Several translations describe this older woman as reverent; others use the word holy. She’s trustworthy: she doesn’t spread gossip. Your secrets are safe with her. And she’s self-controlled, not given to excess.

I’ve written before about different ways to mentor. And I shared that mentoring is more than affirmation and suggested thoughts for both mentor and mentee.

What I’d like to suggest now is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You may have one person that you go to with every question and concern. That’s fine if you have such a person. But I have found that God has sent different women across my path with just a word in season that I needed at the moment. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were the pastor and wife we were under in our college days and then our first few married years. They were an older couple. Mrs. B. was kind, warm, wise. But she also laid things on the line. When I was struggling with some issue and finally ready to do whatever it took to deal with it, Mrs. B. was the person I would go to. I knew she would give it to me straight, yet kindly.

Mrs. C. was a lady whose family came to our church while I was away at college. When I came home for the summer, the family invited me over for dinner several times. They soon became a second family to me. I don’t remember Mrs. C. ever specifically trying to teach me anything, but I learned so much from her example, her character, her response to her husband, her homemaking.

These two relationships were long-term, but sometimes God had an older friend say something helpful in passing. For instance, once while working in the church nursery, another lady mentioned that she had hit the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows in the context of mothering. That stopped me in my tracks, because I had thought something similar, but hadn’t quite put it into words. I don’t think we discussed it any further, but her comment let me know that my feelings were normal. Another time, I was putting up a church bulletin board with a lady who had teenagers while my children were younger. She gave me some off-the-cuff advice not to dread the teen years. She said teens don’t all go through rebellious phases, and if the relationship has been good all along, there’s no reason it can’t continue to be good. That lifted a weight and gave me a healthy perspective of my children’s upcoming teen years, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Once I was doing something in the church building while the group who ministered to the seniors at church were setting up a banquet for them. That kind of preparation can get hectic. The wife of the couple involved, a very sweet woman, came into the kitchen to look for something. While she stood there a moment, gathering her thoughts and looking at cabinets, her husband came in behind her with an urgent question. He couldn’t see her face, but I saw her close her eyes a moment and then give him a calm answer. Whether she was thinking through the answer to his question or changing gears from her own pursuit, I don’t know. But my impression was that in a moment of being overwhelmed, she took just a beat or two to gain control and answer kindly when she might have wanted to be left alone to finish her own task.

Another older lady had to retire from her loved job due to what some considered unfair circumstances. I know this woman was hurt, but I never once heard her badmouth her employers. I watched as she sought out several different new ways of ministering until she found her new niche, and her efforts continued to make a different in other people’s lives.

The one factor all of these examples have in common is that they arose naturally, in the normal course of life and ministry.

There’s nothing wrong with setting up classes and seminars. I have learned boatloads from many great and mostly unknown women teachers. I’ve sought specific counsel from older women at times.

There’s nothing wrong with a formal one-on-one relationship specifically for the purpose of mentoring.

But a mentor does not have to be a formal teacher and may not have that kind of relationship with anyone. Even if she does, we’re all called to the kind of walk where our example teaches and where we’re so yielded to and in tune with the Holy Spirit that He can work though us in the course of everyday life. I think of this as organic, natural mentoring. I don’t remember in any of these cases praying for God to send an older, godly woman my way. But He did, because He knew I needed them.

It’s fine to pray for a mentor, to work through a book or Bible study together, to have a list of questions to discuss. Sue Donaldson has some great ones here. But I also saw a list of 100 questions to ask of a mentor. Honestly, that sounds exhausting. No one wants to feel grilled interrogated. If you want to approach someone with questions, I wouldn’t bring that many. And I’d suggest questions from your own heart rather than a list, things you would like to ask an older, experienced lady about living the Christian life in a way that honors the Lord.

But beyond questions, we can learn much just by spending time with these women and observing their walk and demeanor. I know I have probably asked older women specific questions, but I don’t remember most of those conversations. For some reason, I’ve remembered these instances I shared here for years. Many of them were foundational or transitional to my thinking. And the women in question probably didn’t even know they had said something that affected me. I don’t think I knew it myself at the moment. It probably took time to process their advice, comments, or example. A guest preacher at our church years ago once said that often, when the Holy Spirit uses us, we’re unaware of it.

That’s the kind of godly, older-ish woman I want to be: one who walks closely with the Lord, filled with His Spirit and His Word and a love for others, available for His use in everyday life and conversation.

Have you had such a mentor in your life—someone who wasn’t officially a teacher, yet taught you by word or example? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Biblical Thankfulness

We know thanksgiving is not just a day in November, but it is an activity we’re supposed to engage in year-round. But our annual thankful holiday does help turn our thoughts a more grateful direction.

In past years I’ve made lists of what I am thankful for throughout November, either once a day or all on Thanksgiving Day. I usually ended up with pretty much the same items on my list. That’s fine. We should continue to be thankful for what we have every year.

It’s harder to be thankful some years. Health issues cropped up, loved ones are no longer with us, finances have taken a downturn. The Bible speaks of the “sacrifice of praise”: “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 often wondered at that wording. “Sacrifice” hearkens back to some of the OT sacrifices, but here it is applied specifically to praise. I’ve thought that perhaps it’s a sacrifice because we have to turn our attention from ourselves to God. But maybe it’s also a sacrifice because we do it whether or not we “feel” it. Joni Eareckson Tada has said, “To give thanks is not the same as ‘feeling thankful.’ To give thanks in the midst of pain and problems is to take a step of faith based on the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances (not just those we can handle or feel on top of). For what things can you give thanks, even while you’re hurting?”

C. S. Lewis said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ‘good,’ because is it good, if ‘bad’ because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

One year I did a study on thanks and thanksgiving in the Bible.Just one aspect of it was noticing what people in the Bible thanked God for. It’s perfectly fine to thank God for material blessings and the people He has placed in our lives. But we can expand our thanks to include:

Attributes of God Himself

God’s goodness. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (I Chronicles 16:34; Ezra 3:11; Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136)

God’s holiness. “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” (Psalm 30:4, KJV)

God’s righteous judgments. At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. (Psalm 119: 62, KJV)

God’s greatness. “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” (Psalm 95:1-3)

God’s power and reign. “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:17)

God’s love and wonderful works. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:21-2)

What God gives us or does for us

Saving us. “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14)

Bearing us.Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19)

Victory over death. “Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57)

Deliverance from mourning. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Comfort: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Causing us to triumph, making Himself known through us. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14, KJV)

God’s provision, enough for ourselves plus for giving to others. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11-12)

God’s inexpressible gift. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Food. “. . . foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:3b-5)

Authorities. Really? Yes: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Other people.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 8:16)

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . .” (Ephesians 1:16)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints” (Colossians 1:3-4) (See also I Thessalonians 1:1-3; 3:9-10; II Thessalonians 2:13-14.)

Everything.

“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3)

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg! I’m sure further study would reveal even more things to be thankful for in the Bible.

I’ve been looking for a quote that I thought came from Martin Luther, but I can’t seem to find it with various searches. But it went something like this: God saved me when I didn’t deserve it. I could and should thank Him eternally for just that. Anything else He gives me or does for me after that is just extra blessings. (If you know this quote, please share in the comments. I would be so grateful.) We’re truly “loaded with benefits”: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19, KJV).

No doubt August Storm had done a thanksgiving study of his own when he composed this hymn in 1891:

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!

~ August L. Storm, 1891

What are you most thankful for this year?

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What I Learned from Bare Trees

Fall seemed to arrive late this year, and winter weather is already upon many of us. Thankfully, there’s still a good bit of color in many trees. But others are already bare.

I’ve written before about having trouble when the leaves are off, when the landscape is bleak and barren. I soak up fall’s beauty to sustain me through long, colorless winters.

But just recently, something I read touched off a search for the science behind why deciduous tress lose their leaves

  • The leaves wouldn’t survive the cold in many places.
  • Trees conserve water through the winter by purposefully dropping their leaves.
  • Leaves damaged by “insects, disease or general wear and tear,” according to this source, are made to fall off so they can be renewed again in the spring.
  • Some leaves provide resources for the plant before dropping off. According to this source, “A number of deciduous plants remove nitrogen and carbon from the foliage before they are shed and store them in the form of proteins in the vacuoles of parenchyma cells in the roots and the inner bark. In the spring, these proteins are used as a nitrogen source during the growth of new leaves or flowers.”
  • Dead leaves nourish soil.

I either didn’t know, or more likely had just forgotten learning these facts in school way back when. But it helps to know that there is a reason God created trees this way. Their loss of leaves actually protects them and helps them survive the winter and leaf out again in the spring.

Couldn’t God have made all the trees evergreen? He could have. But they’d all look like fir, spruce, or pine trees, made the way they are to survive the winter in a different way. Deciduous trees provide us with such rich color, beauty, and variety. Then they picture death, giving way to springtime resurrection. Some provide fruit in the summer.

It would be nice if the leaves could change into beautiful colors and then go back to green without dropping off, or at least get their green leaves back sooner. But there’s much they can teach us.

Sometimes loss is for our good. The things we want to hang on to would be harmful or prevent us from growing. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

Dead leaves nourish the soil which then helps the tree grow. “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

When leaves are off the trees, we can see things we couldn’t before. On our drive to church during our first fall and winter here, I discovered houses, ponds, animals, and scenery that had been hidden when the trees were leafed out.

A leafless tree “Displays a certain loveliness—The beauty of the bone (John Updike, “November”). Hebrews speaks of ” the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (12:27). When life is stripped to its basics, we see the strength of that core of God’s truth; we see what really matters. Corrie ten Boom said, ” “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” Or, taken in reverse, when Christ is all you have, you find He is all you need. Thanksgiving in the midst of long nights and barren landscapes reminds us of what’s most important and what bounty we still have.

Sometimes our normal sources of provision fail us. But God provides for us through seasons of loss and barrenness. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Sometimes we have to learn to be content in doing without. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Seasons of rest come between seasons of fruitfulness. No one can give out incessantly without respite. Jesus told His disciples, “’Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31).

Life is transient. “Nothing gold can stay,” as Robert Frost said. Not only do seasons come and go, but life itself will fade from fruitfulness to winter. Hair and skin lose their color, limbs lose their strength. We echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).This promise to Israel can be applied to God’s children now: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4). “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). For those who know the Lord, life’s winter will give way to eternity’s spring.

Gone, they tell me, is youth.
Gone is the strength of my life:
Nothing remains but decline,
Nothing but age and decay.

Not so, I’m God’s little child,
Only beginning to live;
Coming the years of my prime,
Coming the strength of my life;
Coming the vision of God,
Coming my bloom and my power.

~ William Newton Clarke

After the flood in Noah’s time was over, God said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Thomas O’ Chisholm picked up this truth in his great hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness:

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Though seasons change,

There is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

What do barren trees teach you?

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God’s Deadlines

If you’ve had or worked with children, you have likely faced this scenario. A child does wrong repeatedly. After much instruction and admonition, the parent or teacher says, “If you do that one more time, you are going to face this consequence.”

The child does it one more time. The adult begins to administer the promised consequence, and all of a sudden, the child starts doing whatever he was supposed to, or starts crying and pleading for mercy.

Knowing when to be firm and when to show grace was one of the hardest parts of parenting for me. But if I had promised my children a certain consequence would follow certain actions (or lack of actions), I felt I needed to follow through. They needed to know I would keep my word, plus they needed to be trained away from last-minute feigned repentance that only occurs when punishment is coming.

Our church is reading through and discussing Jeremiah together, five chapters a week. Jeremiah’s message was not a popular one. Basically he had to tell the people to get ready for the consequences of their actions. In the Israelites’ case at this time, the consequences for their continued idolatry, disobedience, and lack of repentance involved the king of Babylon conquering their city and deporting most of them to Babylon as captives.

Sometimes people accuse God of cruelty when He sends judgement on people, but they forget the years of longsuffering that led up to the judgment in question. Closing the door of the ark so no one else could get in seems drastic, but people had several decades of preaching and warning beforehand. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5) and “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence (verse 11). 1 Peter 3:20 says, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” God was patient, but He also said His Spirit would not always strive or contend with man (Genesis 6:3). There was a deadline.

Similarly, God had sent His prophets over years to preach to the people in Jeremiah’s time. God told Jeremiah a couple of times not to pray for the people, and the ESV Study Bible notes how unusual this command was  I don’t think that meant that Jeremiah could not bring them before the Lord at all. But, if I understand it correctly, he couldn’t pray for God to turn away His judgment unless the people repented.

But the people flat out refused to repent. A few times they came to Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them, or they called out to God to help them, but their repentance was either not genuine or was short-lived. At one point, they responded to God’s pleas for their repentance and warnings of future consequences with “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart” (18:12). Another time they said, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you” (44:16). God pleaded with the people to turn away from their folly and come to Him, but they wouldn’t. So, eventually, consequences had to come.

God’s consequences are often meant to have a sanctifying effect. He chastens out of love and for our good.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 10b-11)

Scattered throughout Jeremiah are God’s promise of future restoration of His people. They would spend 70 long years in exile. But among those taken captive were future heroes of the faith, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would take a bold but gracious stand for God and witness for Him to foreign kings. Ezekiel preached to the exiles. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back to Israel.

But not everyone made it back. In the course of 70 years, many died.

Back in Numbers 13-14, Israel refused to advance into the land God promised them. He pledged to be with them and help them overtake it, but they refused in fear. They were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until every adult who had refused to obey had died.

But God’s deadlines don’t refer just to chastening. Earlier this year it was on my heart to write to a woman who was like a second mother to me. But I put it off. I would be sending her a Mother’s Day card in a few weeks, and I planned to write a letter to send with it. But then I received word that she’d had a series of medical issues, was unresponsive, and was in her last days. I know with all the joys of heaven, she’s not thinking of not receiving a letter from me. But I have the regret that I didn’t respond to that prompting and share some words of encouragement. When my grandmother and aunt died, I also regretted that I had not kept in touch better in the last few years. A pastor’s wife told of the regret she felt when she leaned that a lady she saw regularly at some place of business had died suddenly. She realized that she had never spoken to her about the Lord. We only have so much time to do good.

Proverbs 27:1 (NASB) says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Sometimes when we think about the limitations of time and the shortness of our days, we can get into a frenzy. But that’s not what God wants, either. Jesus only had 33 years on this earth, with only three and a half of those years involved in official ministry. Yet He was not frenzied. He didn’t heal or preach to everyone on earth at the time. He rested sometimes. But He did everything God wanted Him to do. We need to seek Him for wisdom, guidance, and the right priorities for each day.

Eventually, we are all going to face a final deadline. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

It’s wise not to put off repentance and believing on Jesus as Lord and Savior, because we never know when our time will be up and we’ll hear God’s final call.

It’s wise not to put off obedience, because the consequences have to come at some point.

It’s wise not to put off doing good, because someday we’ll no longer have the opportunity.

The older I get, the more I’m aware that I have more days behind me than before me.  I want to follow God wholeheartedly until that final deadline comes.

How about you?

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When you don’t know you’re alseep

The morning after a long-ago overnight road trip, one of my sons insisted he hadn’t slept in the car. We had seen him, head down, eyes closed, a small blanket over him. But we couldn’t convince him he had, indeed, been asleep. I thought perhaps he had just dreamed he was awake, or he didn’t have a sense of the length of time before he dozed off.

Recently, I had a similar experience. I woke up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom, and came back just a little too awake to fall right back to sleep. I set an album to play on my phone, laid down, closed my eyes, probably prayed and thought for a while. A few hours later, my alarm went off, and I was frustrated that I had spent all that time awake. “I have things to do today. I can’t afford to take a nap, and I don’t want to drag through the day like a zombie,” I chafed inwardly.

But then I realized—the album was a familiar one, and I didn’t remember hearing the latter half of it. And though I felt I had been awake for too long, I didn’t have the sense that it had actually been 3-4 hours. I didn’t feel rested. I didn’t feel like I had been asleep. But I must have been.

Of course, we’re not usually aware we’re asleep until we wake up. Too often I’ve embarrassed myself by jerking awake after dozing off in church. I remember studying my notes from college lectures only to find them increasingly illegible, tapering off into a squiggly line, evidence of forgotten naps. The dream world we’re in seems real until we wake up and recount how weird it all was.

This reminds me just a little of Samson’s situation with Delilah. A judge of Israel, Samson was renowned for his strength. His enemies bribed Delilah to find out how Samson could be defeated. She pleaded, begged, wept, “pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that he was a Nazarite from birth and had never cut his hair. “If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man“. So while he was asleep, Delilah had his head shaved. “And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (verse 20). The Philistines took their advantage, captured him, gouged his eyes out, and imprisoned him.

Samson’s problem was not that he had been asleep on Delilah’s lap while she sabotaged his strength. His problem was that he had been asleep spiritually for most of his life. He was called to be a leader of his people. But he was self-willed, self-indulgent, vengeful, disobedient, immoral. Maybe Samson thought he was immune from punishment since he was a judge. God had been with him and used him, and perhaps Samson mistook God’s grace and longsuffering for approval.

God does not leave believers in our day, not since the Holy Spirit was poured forth after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But believers can certainly be sleepy spiritually, drifting off when they should be fully alert. We go forth like normal, unaware that our strength is gone. That could happen because of sin that we’re harboring rather than confessing to the Lord. Or it could happen because we’ve neglected time in prayer and the Bible. Or we’ve been lulled into cozy complacency.

God gives rest to His people. Spiritually, we rest in Him all the time. Physically, he provides rest at night and on the Lord’s day.

But then there are times to be fully awake and alert.

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. Mark 13:32-37.

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9.

Usually, if we’re asleep, we need something outside ourselves to wake us up: an alarm clock, another person, a wake-up call. God sends us wake-up calls in His Word:

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14.

Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:34.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelation 3:2.

Fleeing from God’s will, Jonah slept in a boat, not realizing he was in trouble. A “mighty tempest” threatened to break up the ship. The captain found Jonah and said, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:1-6).

We’ve all experienced sleeping through the time we should have gotten up. Then we’re late to class or work, or we’re behind all day. Some people in the Bible missed out on important things because they slept. When Jesus went to Gethsemane, just before He was arrested, he took Peter, James, and John with Him and told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). But a short while later, “he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. The same passage in Luke says they were “sleeping for sorrow.” And Jesus said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (verses 40-41). Not only did the disciples miss an opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in His lowest hour, but they weren’t fortified for the trials to come. They fled when Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied Him.

In an even worse predicament were the ten virgins in the parable of Matthew 25 (see here for more explanation and background of this parable). They were waiting for the call to go to a wedding. They all fell asleep, but five were prepared when the call came. Five others were not ready, but needed oil for their lamps. They had to go out to buy more and missed the Bridegroom’s coming. When they tried to get in to the feast, they were turned away. Jesus’ point in this parable: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (verse 13).

If you don’t know the Savior, please read what it means to know Jesus, so you’ll ready for His coming. For those who know Him, let’s be awake spiritually, doing His will, looking for His coming.

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Is It a Sin to Be Rich?

I’ve seen some sentiment recently “shaming” rich people. One said that the category of billionaires should not be allowed to exist because no one should have that much more money than anyone else.

Is it a sin to be rich? The Bible has much more to say about the subject than can be contained in one blog post, but here are a few thoughts.

Some of the patriarchs were rich: Abraham, Job, David, Solomon. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man who took Jesus’ body from the cross and laid it in his own tomb (Matthew 27:57). There were also bad people in the Bible who were rich: Nabal in the Old Testament and the rich man at whose gate Lazarus stayed (Luke 16) as well as others. So just the fact of having riches doesn’t indicate whether one is good or bad.

Problems and dangers of riches

There are some who gain riches unjustly, and they are certainly wrong, grasping for more than God intended for them and oppressing others to do so. Some put all rich people in this category, but not all fit.

Yet God does warn that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Notice it doesn’t say money is the root of all kinds of evil, but the love of money is.

There are certainly dangers to being rich. One of the worst is trusting riches instead of God.

See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction! Psalm 52:7

  If riches increase, set not your heart on them. Psalm 62:10b

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:28

Another danger is that “the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God from taking root in the soul (Matthew 13:18-23). Jeremiah told Jehoiakim:  “I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen’” (Jeremiah 22:21). Jesus warned “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He told of a rich man who increased in goods and built bigger barns but neglected his soul, concluding:

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:13-21).

Jesus told His disciples:

Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Lady Selina Shirley Huntingdon used to say she was “saved by an M,” pointing out that 1 Corinthians 1:26 did not say “not any noble,” but rather that “not many noble” after the flesh are called. She rejoiced to be counted among those called and used her wealth and influence to further the cause of Christ.

Not all rich people are oppressive, but the Bible warns those who are:

Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. Proverbs 22:16

Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool. Jeremiah 17:11 (see also Micah 6:10-16).

Righteous poor are better than evil rich:

Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked (Psalm 37:16).

Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice (Proverbs 16:8).

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6

Riches are not reliable. The Bible warns in many places of the fleeting, temporary nature of riches (James 1:9-11). Proverbs 23:4-5 says of wealth: “suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Right perspectives

In Psalm 73, Asaph is troubled over the prosperity of the wicked until he goes to the sanctuary and is reminded of their end. He encourages himself that God is with him and will take care of him.

David had the right perspective in 1 Chronicles 29. The people had just given tremendously toward the building of the temple. Overwhelmed and grateful, David prayed, “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all” (verse 12). He went on to say, “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” (verse 14). He acknowledged that everything he had came from God and was His in the first place.We’re only stewards of what God has entrusted us with.

Both riches and poverty have their own problems and temptations. I have often felt like Agur in Proverbs 30: 7-9, desiring to be somewhere between the two:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Jeremiah 9:22-24 clarifies: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”

After Timothy warns about the love of money, mentioned above, he says a few verses later:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

He also encourages contentment: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

James warns against partiality towards the rich (James 2:1-13) and has harsh words for those who “have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence” (James 5:1-6).

On the other hand we have the “prosperity gospel,” which promises believers that God will shower His followers with riches. Those who preach and follow this somehow miss all that the Bible says about trials, persecutions, contentment, and warnings about riches. But that’s another post for another day.

I have no problem with the person at the top receiving more money. After all, if you received a promotion that called for more responsibility, would you be nearly as excited about it if you didn’t also receive more compensation? However, the CEO shouldn’t be living in luxury while the lowest workers are living in poverty.

Practically speaking, it’s often the rich who provide jobs and put money into the economy. In one article I saw, a man who had come from a rich family wanted to turn his back on the lifestyle. Among the things he wanted to do away with was the yacht industry. But what about all the people who work in that industry, who would lose their jobs if that industry shut down?

Some rich people also begin and sustain charities.

A Sunday School teacher once commented that God needs and uses people at all economic levels, all classes, all types, to reach those within their influence.Wealthy people have a platform as well as money, and many use that influence for good.

We’re all richer than someone. If you’ve ever traveled to a third world country, you know that most Americans seem rich by comparison. Before we condemn the rich and advocate stringent measures towards them, we need to stop and evaluate our own position.

Lawbreaking, corrupt rich should be taken to court, of course. But is being rich in itself a sin? It depends. We need to seek God’s wisdom for making the best use of the resources He has allowed. In Christian history, some, like Lady Huntingdon, have used their wealth and position to help others and further the gospel. Others, like missionary C. T. Studd, have given almost everything away. Our ultimate example is Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Not rich with worldly goods: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

We don’t need to worry that some have more than others. We’re all accountable to God for what we do with what He gave us. When we know Him, we can be content, trusting Him to supply our needs. We’re not to covet or envy what others have; we’re to be generous and giving towards others.

I like how the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (7:14). If God gives us plenty, we can enjoy it, being careful to do what Timothy said above by being generous towards others. If God allows adversity, we lean on Him and learn what He has for us.

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Look Up

I don’t know how to type correctly. Somehow I never had a typing or keyboarding class. Over the years I have developed my own “hunt and peck” method, which is slow and riddled with mistakes.

Since I’m not trained to know which keys are what direction, I have to look down at the keyboard. You’d think, after typing for 40 years, that I’d know the keyboard by now. Because I’m looking down, I don’t realize what mistakes I’ve made until I look up again. Sometimes I don’t realize I accidentally hit the “Caps Lock” button until I look up and see a sentence or two capitalized. Sometimes I highlight something to delete or move, and when I look up again, I can’t even recognize my paragraph because somehow my highlighting shifted and caught more words than I meant for it to. I’m abundantly thankful for Control+Alt+Z to undo my last action! Other times, I miss a prompt that would have saved me a few keystrokes.

I may not be able to help looking down at a keyboard: my (bad) habits have been ingrained for so long, I don’t know if a typing class could help me now.

But this continual looking down reminds me of a character in the second half of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Part 1 of the story focuses on Christian; Part 2 features his wife, Christiana. In one scene, the Interpreter takes Christiana to a room “where was a man that could look no way but downwards, with a Muckrake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a Celestial Crown in his Hand, and proffered to give him that Crown for his Muck-rake ; but the man did neither look up, nor regard; but raked to himself the Straws, the small Sticks, and Dust of the Floor.”

Then said Christiana, “I persuade myself that I know somewhat the meaning of this: For this is a Figure of a man of this World : Is it not, good Sir?”

“Thou hast said the right,” said he, “and his Muck-rake, doth shew his Carnal mind. And whereas thou seest him rather give heed to rake up Straws and Sticks, and the
Dust of the Floor, than to what he says that calls to him from above with the Celestial Crown in his Hand ; it is to show, that Heaven is but as a Fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now whereas it was also shewed thee, that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let thee know that earthly things when they are with Power upon Men’s minds, quite carry their hearts away from God.”

Then said Christiana, “O! deliver me from this Muck-rake.”

“That Prayer,” said the Interpreter, “has lain by till ’tis almost rusty: Give me not Riches, is scarce the Prayer of Prov. 30. 8. One of ten thousand. Straws, and Sticks, and Dust, with most, are the great things now looked after.”

With that Mercy and Christiana wept, and said, “It is alas! too true.”

I assume this was in the days of dirt floors, so this man’s task was a necessary one. But it wasn’t the only thing in life that needed his attention. He was so caught up in the everyday tasks that he missed the most important things.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus described some “who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

We can get so caught up with the cares of this word, can’t we? Floors have to be cleaned, as well as the rest of the house, errands run, meals cooked, laundry washed, dried, and folded, family tended to, and so on, and so on, and so on. And then the desire for other things distracts our thoughts.

But we need to take time to look up.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26, ESV).

All our tasks and pursuits here are only temporary. There’s a greater reality beyond our muckraking.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished (Isaiah 51:6).

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).

The muckraker didn’t believe in anything higher to look up to. Let’s not follow his mistake.

They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son (Zechariah 12:10b).

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else (Isaiah 45:22).

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32).

Even after salvation, we have to continually remind ourselves to keep the right perspective, to put God first, to seek His ways.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up (Psalm 5:3).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2, ESV).

We look up to acknowledge our need for the only One who can help:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV).

And we need to look from our pursuits to minister to others:

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35b).

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5a, ESV).

God has given us good work to do, but He never meant for those tasks to eclipse Him. Much of our life and ministry is in the mundane, everyday moments of life. But that work and those moments are given meaning by the time we look up to Him. It’s vital to spend time with Him, and then carry those thoughts we gain from His Word back into our everyday lives.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. ~ Hebrews 12:2a

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senor Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Tea and Word, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Truth Tuesday, Recharge Wednesday, Wise Woman,
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Linking does not imply 100% agreement.)

 

Do you want to be near God?

The October 11th Daily Light on the Daily Path reading touched off a quick study of the word “near” in the ESV. There are many passages that talk about drawing near to God without using that exact word. But what I found in this search was rich food for thought. I wanted to share just a portion from this study.

Writers and bloggers are advised these days not to just list a bunch of verses because people skip over them. And I agree, good teaching and writing is not just listing verses. But the meat of this topic is in the Word itself, so I hope you’ll follow the progression here and read the verses for themselves.

God is omniscient. He’s everywhere all the time.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 23:23-24).

He has promised never to leave and forsake His own.

He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

After Jesus ascended back to heaven, the Holy Spirit was given to live with believers. Can’t get much closer than that!

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6).

You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:9).

So in one sense He is always near. But it’s possible to be right next to someone and be miles apart in heart.

All through the Bible, God calls people to draw near:

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

In the Old Testament, people could not approach God except through the sacrificial system. They could pray at any time, of course, and their relationship with God was based on faith rather than rituals. Nevertheless, God required them to draw near in various ways through a sacrifice which served as a picture and a foretelling of the sacrifice Christ would make on their behalf. Strict rules allowed that only the priests could offer the sacrifices, and even the high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies once a year. God’s holiness and the people’s sinfulness kept them separated until their sins had been atoned for.

In the New Testament, God is still just as holy and people are still just as sinful. But we don’t have that sacrificial system any more. Through Jesus, “a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God‘ (Hebrews 7:19).  Ephesians 2 explains:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

I don’t usually quote whole chapters here, but this passage is so marvelous and so perfectly expresses how we’re ale to draw near to God, I didn’t feel I could leave much out. As the Getty’s hymn, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, says, “hands that should discard me
hold wounds which tell me, ‘Come.'”

Because of Jesus’ holiness, because He is the Son of God, and also because of His eternality, He can save: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Hebrews 7:25).

After Jesus’ atonement for us, the next requirement to draw near to God is faith:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6).

It’s possible to draw near hypocritically. God often remarked that Israel “[drew] near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). Judas “drew near to Jesus to kiss him” in betrayal (Luke 22:47).

By contrast:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22).

The Lord is near to all who call on him . . .  truth (Psalm 145:18).

Drawing near to God also requires humility and forsaking of sin:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.(James 4:6-8).

We can draw near for grace and help:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

We know that we can draw near to God to have our sins forgiven and to bring Him our requests. But when we’re undergoing some kind of trouble, often God seems far away. However:

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:17-18).

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

However, nearness to God is not a feeling. Nothing surpasses those moments of feeling close to God, but it’s possible sometimes to have faith, to have confessed every sin, and yet lose that sense of God’s nearness. Darlene Deibler Rose experienced this while in a POW camp in the Philippines during WWII. That closeness to God was what got her through her severe trials, and she was troubled when she didn’t feel it. She shares in her book, Evidence Not Seen:

“Lord, I believe all that the Bible says. I do walk by faith and not by sight. I do not need to feel You near, because Your Word says You will never leave me nor forsake me. Lord, I confirm my faith; I believe.” The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen — that was what I put my trust in — not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized that I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:35). Job knew that he could trust God, because Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord. I encouraged myself in the Lord and His Word.

We can also encourage ourselves in the Lord and His Word. We were born far from a holy God who can’t tolerate or overlook sin. Our sin separated us from Him. Jesus took our sins and their penalty on Himself, providing access to God. We can draw near to Him in any need in truth through faith, repentance, humility. God wants us near. Will you come?

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:27-28).

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God;
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Cleland B. McAfee, 1903

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“Just Wait: It Gets Harder”

A young mom friend shared that she gets the above response whenever she mentions that life can be hard with several little children at once.

Why do we women do that to each other?

I’m so thankful that when I was a young mom, a special older lady told me that each stage of our children’s lives has it’s high and low points, and we shouldn’t dread any stage. I think at the time my oldest was about to turn two, thus I was cringing at the thought of the “terrible twos.” Her words helped me not to view that season of life negatively, and the “twos” were not all that terrible.

Though baby- and toddlerhood hold some cute, sweet, fun, and incredibly precious  moments, small people depending on you for every little thing can be exhausting. I loved my babies and little ones, but this stage of life was hardest for me. When they can feed themselves, go to the bathroom by themselves, dress themselves, etc., life gets a lot easier.

Perhaps for some moms, what I call the “taxi years” are the most taxing, when you’re chauffeuring kids to sports practice, music lessons, church activities, birthday parties, school activities, etc., etc. That season does have its challenges. We tried hard to strike the right balance by offering our kids a number of opportunities without the whole household revolving around children’s schedules. It’s not easy. But one perk was that one of our children opened up much more in the car than if I tried to draw him out across the table.

Probably most who warn about harder years of parenting are referring to the teen years. Once, when my children were still young, an older mom and I were working on a bulletin board together at church. As she shared something about her teenage daughter, she said something like, “Don’t dread the teen years. If you keep the relationship good, keep communication open, and train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the teen years don’t have to be a trial for either of you.” And she was right, just like my mom friend who told me not to dread the “terrible twos.” The world has bought into this idea that rebellion is a teenage rite of passage, but it doesn’t have to be. They do ask hard questions, but we should welcome them and help them seek answers. They should be coming to a point where their beliefs are becoming their own rather than just rotely following what they’ve always been told. There might be a few bumps in the road towards independence, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out war.

And then we come to parenting adults. In some ways, it’s a relief that all their decisions are their own responsibility now. Yet we have to let them make their own mistakes. We only offer advice when asked, and then carefully. We have to let go, but we can pray.

Each stage of development is a necessary part of growing up. Each has its hardships and its blessings. We need to encourage each other all along the way.

Imagine you’re hiking up a mountain trail. The way is rough, you’re hot, and you’ve still got a long way to go. Way up ahead you see another hiker. You call out to her and ask how the trail is between you. She says, “You think it’s bad now; you think you’re tired now; just wait. It only gets harder the further you go.”

How encouraged would you be? Not at all.

How much better if those ahead on the path called back, “Yes, it’s tough. But God gives grace. You can do it. Keep up the good work!” Or, even better, we can share how we found verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8 true in relation to motherhood: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Motherhood has been one of the hardest aspects of my life. Not much else (besides caregiving) showed me how selfish I was and how much I needed God’s grace. But watching and learning from other moms was a great encouragement.

Much has been said in recent years about mentoring, but we don’t need to set up formal mentoring relationships in order to encourage others. So often, I’ve received the most encouragement from off-the-cuff, seemingly random conversations in passing. But looking back, I know they weren’t random. I know God placed those people in my path for  my encouragement.

I’ve shared before this poem from an unknown author that was quoted in Rosalind Goforth‘s autobiography, Climbing (one of my favorites). I had always thought of it in relation to life in general, Christian life in particular. I had mostly thought of it in relation to missionary and other Christian biographies. Even though it’s not specifically about motherhood, much of it can apply. We don’t need to demean or “one-up” others. Older moms, let’s call back encouragement to younger moms. Older women, let’s support younger women whether they are mothers or not, married or not.

Call Back!

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when forest’s roots were torn;
That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill.
He bore you up and held where the very air was still.

O friend, call back, and tell me, for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky-
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

Has someone “called back” in a way that encouraged you? I’ve love to hear about it in the comments.

(I’ve read several posts about encouragement this week. This must be a
message God wants emphasized at this particular time.
I love how Kelly expanded this truth to all scenarios here.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Literary Musing Monday,
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