Working behind the scenes…

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Timing can mean everything. We hear stories about someone who was running late for work and therefore just missed a tragic accident on the highway at the time the person would normally be driving at that exact spot. Or a story about a person, just laid off from their job, who happened to be sitting next to someone on an airplane that told him about an amazing new job opening. Or a person who missed a flight that later ended badly. Sometimes people will say they were “just lucky,” or “at the right place at the right time.”

Reading about experiences that seem too good to be true tend to make me think more about the larger plan that God has for our lives. We can never truly know what is waiting for us around the next curve in the road. Sometimes it is upsetting, other times quite miraculous. Joy could be waiting at the next turn, or profound sorrow. And while it is easier to think about God’s larger plan when good things happen, it is challenging to believe the tragedies that we experience are also within God’s plan.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose Romans 8:28

We tend to question the tragic occurrences more than the beneficial events (See Devotional for Those Coping with Tragedy: A Journey Back to God). But in both cases, God knows of these events and allows and uses these to bring us closer to Him. Perhaps we would not have been ready to receive God had not our hearts been broken. Perhaps the timing of an event was necessary to bring us to maturity to be able to cope and call upon God for strength. Whatever the reason, our lives are always a part of larger plans. Those larger plans include all of the people around us and the connections we have or new connections we will make with each other. The timing may be necessary so that all of the pieces will fit at the right time and the next blessing will then be given to us.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay Habakkuk 2:3

A friend of mine recently was quite frustrated with the way things were going. Like me, she tends to be impatient when waiting for the next good thing to happen. Then, without any notice, a great opportunity opened up for her. She realized that her waiting was needed so that the opportunity could be created. It took time. And during that time, God was working behind the scenes so that all things came together at precisely the right moment.

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The Lord is good to those who wait for him, the soul who seeks him Lamentations 3:25

Whether we are waiting for an opportunity or worrying about a tragic event, we know that our strength can only come from God. For all events in our lives, we give thanks for the occasions to grow nearer to Him and increase our faith. In all of our lives, He is working behind the scenes for our gain in the larger plan.

 

 

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Good days…

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You probably have had one of those days when everything seemed to click. All your ducks were in a row. You accomplished not only the items on your to do list, but you successfully completed a couple of extra duties! You ran several errands. You had a good day at work or school, and you came home and worked around the house. You did a favor for someone. Maybe you topped off the evening by cooking a fabulous meal or enjoying an outing with friends and family. The day was about as close to perfect as you have had. At the end of the day, you fall into bed, thoroughly exhausted but blissful that the day was a good day.

On those very productive days, we keep our eyes on the target and move at a slightly faster pace. We are task oriented and our attention is focused and lasts to the end of the undertaking. We may mistakenly feel that all of the credit is ours. We succeeded. We worked beyond our own expectations. Perhaps there was even recognition for the great job we didall on our own! We may even boast to others, touting our remarkable triumph over our assignments.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him 1 John 2:15

We burst with pride, and we begin to think in the future. Maybe we will do even greater things in the future. Our payoff may be larger. And soon…there it is. We think about the material things we might buy or the additional money we might make.

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The drawback with this thought process, for us as Christians, is that we fail to realize the effort, the energy, the focus, and the success, were not things that we did on our own. Our skills, abilities, and even our energy and focus, were given to us by our Father in heaven. And on the days when things are not going well, we are reminded that we cannot control our world. We may function well within our own livelihood, career, home, and family, but make no mistake, we cannot control these aspects of our lives.

Finding and staying centered with God is difficult to do on those extra busy hectic days. But staying centered with Him, being thankful and prayerful, will keep our feet grounded. Walking closer to God prevents us from getting ahead of ourselves and taking the wrong path toward greed and worldly achievements. Often after we experience positive results, we begin planning for even greater things. More success, more money, more prestige, more material things. These worldly rewards may or may not happen. It is not up to us. We put forth the effort, but the outcome will be determined by God.

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But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you Matthew 6:33

The verse above reminds us that by seeking God first, we shall have more rewards in heaven than we could possibly imagine here on earth. In this verse, Jesus tells us not to worry about the future, our needs, and our desires. By placing God in our hearts first and staying centered, there is no need for worry or greed. Our focus should be on Him rather than our earthly concerns. With God first, we will have peace of mind, strong faith, loving relationships, and our needs will be met.  For these bountiful blessings, we are thankful.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you John 15:7

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Patience…

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And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up Galatians 6:9

There are so many times in our lives that we are in a hurry. We are living in an age when everything happens instantly. The technology available to us allows us to have answers to complicated questions immediately. We send pictures of our adventures around the world back to our family at home instantaneously. And we get products delivered to our homes within a day. We have difficulty with patience because we do not need it to meet our day-to-day needs.

When it comes to  our own physical and social needs, we can usually find and obtain what we want right away. But when it comes to reaching our bigger goals, it takes more time. Someone waits for a promotion, an achievement, a milestone of progress, or their book to become a bestseller. These things are not immediate. Sometimes we find ourselves consumed with reaching that goal. We experience roller coaster emotions between success and anxiety. We have imaginary scenes play in our minds about what that promotion will feel like, how we will react when we reach that goal, or what people might say when we make it to the next phase in our progress. Along the way, we learn more about ourselves. We may not rejoice when we see others pass us by with their achievements. Perhaps we feel sadness. We experience frustration. We even experience envy.

During these times of waiting and working toward our goals, we may even be tempted to give up. Before that thought receives too much attention, perhaps we need to think about the purpose of what we are working to achieve. Are our goals reaching toward the work that God would have us do? A teacher, a nurse, a firefighter, a serviceman or woman, a doctor, a pastor, are all ways to serve others and God. What about the banker, salesman,  government employee,  or businessman? Are these types of work also considered service for God? They can be. There are always opportunities to reflect and act on your faith, regardless of the particular work. A problem may occur if the achievement you want becomes more important than the service you do.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men Colossians 3:23

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The patient waiting, while continuing to work as hard as ever, can be exhausting. But the continual service, with the goal in mind but not in control, is a mark of our faith. As the Apostle Paul told the early followers of Christ, we should alway pray. And we should hope and wait with patience.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer Romans 12:12

Our ultimate goal is to reach that mansion with many rooms that is prepared for us. Continuing our faith, prayer, and service will help us in that journey. We cannot see heaven, but we have faith in its existence and we wait in patience.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience Romans 8:25

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With a cheerful heart

 

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As I looked at the overflowing clothes hamper, in my mind was a phrase that I had read many times “with a cheerful heart…” Ok. So doing laundry is not a big deal-even when it is long overdue. But cheerfully?

My thoughts then turned to the night before when I visited a new Bible Study class. Granted the Old Testament on a Tuesday night is not very exciting. In fact, the Old Testament can sometimes feel cumbersome. I met the teacher and the other students in the class as we prepared to review 1 Samuel. The teacher, who is chronically ill and happened to be experiencing a great deal of discomfort at that time, was there nevertheless with a smile on her face and ready to teach us. Whats more, with all of her illnesses and health conditions, she prayed for us. “What a cheerful heart..,” I thought. She was more concerned about us than herself. She used her own talents to further the learning of others.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace 1 Peter 4:10

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver 2 Corinthians 9:7

Sorting out the light and dark colors for the next load of clothes, I could not help but think about the other cheerful givers in our lives. The nurses who smile and care for strangers who just expelled some unknown body fluid all over everything. The foster parents who are up in the wee hours of the night rocking a wiggling crying infant, who has 102 temperature, while they also worry about getting their own kids off to school in three short hours. The firefighters who charge into a fire, risking their own lives, to save another human or pet while wearing over 100 pounds of gear on their backs. Military personnel, weighed down with combat gear, who go into the unknown simply because they love their country and stand up to fight against evil, so we can enjoy our freedom here at home. Teachers who enter the classroom smiling each day with the responsibility of helping kids achieve while meeting all the federal and state requirements thrust upon them. Police and other first responders who want to protect us from unknown terrors and aggression. Farmers and ranchers, who never get a break from physical work, as they help meet the nutritional needs of us all. There are many other types of jobs of service, and each one is filled by a caring person who puts others first.

So many people who do their jobs with cheerful hearts and little thanks. They show up day-after-day to work for others. These people use their own knowledge, talents, strengths, and skills to help others first. These individuals had the call and they made that particular decision to serve others for their profession. They did not have to do so, but they did. They serve for the good of mankind.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good 1 Corinthians, 12:4-7.

Living our lives to help others was an example first given to us by Christ. He always put others first as He guided us to learn more about His Father and the kingdom of heaven. He put all of us first by paying the ultimate price for our sins. For this, we should always give thanks. As part of our tribute to Him, we should put others first whenever possible. We should thank others who put us first. And, we should use our own gifts to help others…with a cheerful heart.

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Night walks on the beach

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But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind Job 12:7-10

Recently, my daughter’s family came for a visit. This family is unique because, not only are my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in the family, but there will always be one or two foster babies or toddlers who come along for the trip. This family is fluid and ever-changing, depending upon which infants or toddlers need a loving home. My daughter’s family is asked to foster infants or toddlers when their own parents cannot care for them.

During these summer visits, we do the typical activities that families do at the beach in southern Texas: swim in the coastal waters, play golf, go eat at the bay side and gulf side restaurants, collect sea shells, go shopping, visit the sea turtle rescue facilities, go the lighthouse, go to the sea life museum, and go out on tour boats or pirate ships. We play cards, board games, or watch movies at night. In general, the schedule is extremely busy! We enjoy the loving fellowship of a week together on vacation.

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This year, we revisited a tradition that we had neglected in the past few summers. We went for a night walk on the beach. The goal of this walk is two-fold: first, we enjoy the wondrous majesty of the sea-shore at night with all of God’s blessings and creations as we marvel at the beauty of it all; and, second, we search with flashlights, to find as many crabs as we can. These crabs of all sizes, scurry about quickly, as they run back to the water or find their crab hole in the sand. All the while, we feel the cool powdery sand as we walk in the breezy moonlight armed with our individual flashlights. We sense the foamy waves slide across our feet. We notice other groups of families with flashlights laughing and yelling, “Look! There’s another one!” as they spot a hasty crustacean that soon disappears, shoveling sand over their own little decapod bodies. These creatures are amazing to watch. Their eyes dart back and forth like satellite radar receivers as they examine the beams from our flashlights. The hermit crabs, borrow temporary homes of sea shells, while others find their homes in the sand and sea. God made quite a variety of these particular life forms. The water, the breeze, the moonlight, the variety of sea and sand creatures; so many blessings can be counted in a simple walk on the beach with family.

On this particular sultry night, another blessing was blatantly obvious to me. Walking along the shoreline, my three grandchildren were taking turns pointing out crabs, waves, and sea shells, to the foster baby as they carried her on their hip or in their arms. These three children, elementary, middle, and high school ages, had emotionally and lovingly accepted this baby of fourteen months, as their own sibling. This was not the first time for them to do so. They have, to date, had a total of seven foster babies over the past couple of years. These three grandchildren accept these babies readily; understanding that, for the time being, God has placed these babies in their home. Just like their own parents, they participate in the feeding, clothing, diaper changing, caring for, and loving of these babies. They love  unconditionally. This is the true meaning of the verses spoken to us by Jesus:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16

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Being a true Christian means loving all others, accepting all others, praying for all others. These children willingly care for and love babies and toddlers they do not know. The history of the foster baby’s family is not important. These children do not question, they simply accept. As long-time Christians, or new believers, we do the same to be in the kingdom of God. We accept without question. All these children know is that these little ones need parenting and support. These tiny foster individuals need to learn how accept and return the love of others as well as how to talk, walk, and play. To accept the weak, the suffering, the young and helpless into a loving home, is to be Christlike. This was our second great commandment given to us by Jesus:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35

Among my many blessings, the knowledge that my grandchildren will grow up and have children of their own, for whom they will care just as they care for these foster babies, is one of my most precious blessings. These children will know how to take care of the physical and emotional needs of their own future children. And most important of all, they will know how to guide their own children in a spiritual walk with Christ. They know the examples they set in their own lives are following the commandment of Jesus: to love one another.

 

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