In the pit…looking up

The road we travel is full of pot holes. This cannot be denied. There are days when we are traveling down the road as planned, then abruptly, there it is: the pothole, the sink hole in the road, the pit. On these days, we spend too many hours asking why. Why me? Why us? Why did this have to happen? And on these days of asking why, we are in the pit.

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When we are in the pit, we ask God, “Why did you put me in this pit? Why didn’t you give me a river to swim across? Or a boulder to go around?” We may believe that any other challenge would not be this severe, this impossible, this tragic.

You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak Psalm 77:4

The difference between a pit and a river or a boulder, is that when you are in a pit, you can only look up. While you can swim through water or walk around a bolder, in a pit, you must look up to escape. Rather than asking why we are in the pit, we should examine where we must look to resolve the situation. Putting us in a pit requires our response of looking up. It may take us falling into a pit to get our attention. And then it is clear, although we are in the pit, God is always with us there. He extends His hand to pull us out.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present not things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 8:38-39

Through prayer and Scripture, we find energy and strength to make the climb out. It may take time and a full “all-in” commitment to God, but we can get back on the road of life again.

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Once we are back on our way, we can reflect back on where we have been. We can give praise to our Lord for never leaving us and giving us the hand up we needed. Will we have other pot holes in the road? Maybe… probably. And getting out of one pit in the past can provide us with hope when the next one sneaks up on us.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!    1 Chronicles 16:34

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Fellowship…

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In towns and cities everywhere, there are groups of people who regularly get together for no reason other than to enjoy each others’ company. Perhaps after a happenstance meeting, they have known each other for years. Or maybe they have some common experience in their past that forever bonds them together. Regardless of how they first met, they enjoy weekly or daily visits with no purpose except to spend time together.

There is a group like this where my parents live. Each morning, without fail, they gather around 8:00 am to share a cup of coffee and their favorite donuts. It is not that they have a donut addiction, although the donuts at this specific shop are delicious confections, but they start each morning with embellished stories and multiple rounds of laughter. They even give “The Story of the Year” awards for the most embellished story! They never comment to remind each other of the “same time tomorrow,” they just show up. When my parents are planning their day, the gathering is included by the statement “Have to go to donuts at 8:00” and is a priority before all other errands.

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Other groups meet in coffee houses, waffle shops, and pancake restaurants. As a visitor to a new town, you quickly notice the regulars as a large group at the back table who greet each one as they enter the establishment. These are the meetings where the town news is spread like melted butter on a hot biscuit.

What is it that draws us together in such a way? As it turns out, it is in our nature as humans and more importantly as Christians. Think about Jesus and His disciples. They supported each other in everything. They traveled together, ate together, preached together, found new believers, and established new churches together. Paul wrote to the new believers in Thessalonia instructing them to meet together and support each other. In Christianity, this is referred to as fellowship.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing                     1 Thessalonians 5:11

Fellowship includes having relationships with individuals who have common beliefs and values. It also means helping each other when problems arise. This group can offer advice on complicated family problems, or simple problems like moving a piece of equipment or finding a local service provider to help with chores around the house. One thing is certain, these individuals are there for each other and count on each other when needs arise.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works Hebrews 10:24

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind 1 Peter 3:8

So in good times and bad, Christians join together to hold each other up, provide for each others’ needs, and share precious time. We love one another following the example Jesus set for us. For anyone who questions whether there is time in the day to meet with a group such as this, remember the commandment Jesus gave us.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you John 15:12

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Seasons…

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It is hard to believe it is that time of year again. It still feels like summer, and kids everywhere have been sleeping in late for months. Tomorrow, a new school year begins. Although teachers have been preparing for a week or more, school-aged children are coming to grips with the phrases “It’s a school night,” and “You need to get up early,” once again. Some children are so excited they will hardly be able to fall asleep. Others are dreading the first day due to anticipation anxiety, lack of mastery of pre-requisite skills, or the sudden restrictions that arise from having to function within the school routine. Parents have been busily purchasing school supplies and lunchbox staples. Clothes are selected for that first day in their new grade or school. Like clockwork, the regularity of the seasons emerge one after another.

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease Genesis 8:22

Changing of the seasons is the time we often reflect on our own progress. We use terms like “the autumn of our lives” and “he is just a spring chicken” realizing we are all moving along in time with the same predictability as the seasons. We progress through the years, working our way through life, providing for families, loving our God, and loving each other. During all of our seasons, we are blessed.

He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills Psalm 147:8

Just as the excited children enter their school buildings on the first day, we enter into our own life seasons, year after year. We pray that each season is blessed and that we gain and understand new knowledge as God would want. We pray we grow nearer to Him and guide our own families along the path led by our Shepherd.

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As we travel along, we might wonder silently, “What seeds have I planted? What have I helped to harvest? Where will the journey continue from here?” Although we do not know the future events of the new season, we can depend on guidance we gain by studying the Scripture.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you Psalm 32:8

We pray that we follow the path that God would choose for us. We pray that the youngsters heading out the door to the school bus, or leaving the car to greet their friends on the first day, will remember the guidance from home and from their own understanding of God’s word.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path Psalm 119:105

We pray for the safety of the children and their teachers and families. We pray for productive learning and meaningful activities. We pray for strong healthy growing bodies, and for caring relationships with friends. And finally, we pray for God’s protection and guidance for the new year.

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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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