The Runner’s High

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“Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
If you look at me, you will quickly discern that I am not a runner. I am not physically active and it shows. I have a good friend from elementary/high school who does run and she is healthy, fit, and has incredible mental and physical energy.  I get winded walking to the mailbox. 
 
Paul had a lot to say about running, but not for physical health. Paul was running a race. He had a higher purpose in mind that covering miles. He wanted to run well and to especially finish well.  I encourage you to grab your Bible and read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – I’ll wait here for you.  At first glance, this appears to be about running for the “prize” of heaven, but J.D. Walt highlighted in today’s Seedbed Daily Text that the prize is not about something far off that we have to work harder and run faster to reach. It is about a relationship with Jesus – right here and right now.  It is the realization that Jesus is our running companion. He’s not standing at some far-distant finish line but is running right alongside us.  I also believe Paul is talking about endurance.  About putting your foot down one more time and one more time because Christ is your source of strength when your legs are heavy and your breath is labored. He is the voice shouting encouragement in your ears.  I also believe Paul is talking about being purposeful as you run – in letting go of everything that compromises your ability to stay in step with Christ.  I’m seeing more and more that our ideals (especially our American ideals) are weights on our feet.  They are being turned into the enemy of the Gospel as we set them up higher than heaven.  Being a citizen of heaven trumps being a citizen of any earthly nation.
I do think there is a prize waiting for you at the end of the race. It is hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when you and Jesus bust through the tape at the edge of heaven. That’s the “runner’s high.” That’s worth lacing up your running shoes, Beloved.

Remember to Remember

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“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5a).

 

Why, I wondered, with so much Joy in my life, am I so down? Why am I so discouraged? Why do I feel like there’s such a weight over me? I asked the Lord about it this morning and He showed me an image of a heavy, gray blanket over me and my house. “Where did this come from Lord?” From the enemy. He has covered me with a spirit of discouragement. Add to it my own battle with depression and anxiety and that blanket becomes a dead weight over me. What can I do? How can I be free?

The Psalmist that asked the question also provided the answer: “Put your hope in the Lord” (v. 5b). Oh, that sounds really spiritual, doesn’t it? But not very practical. Ah, but he’s not done. He said, “My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you . . .” There’s the answer. Remember God. Remember His promises. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His Son on the Cross bearing that heavy, grey blanket of my sin. Remember the empty tomb. Remember His Spirit in me. Remember His power. Remember His mercy and grace. Remember every time He came through for me. Remember the rainbow in my backyard. Remember that He bends His ear to hear my cries. Remember and be at peace that “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me. Remember that He is “the God of my life” (v. 8).

Have you felt the same heavy weight? It’s understandable given the way this year has gone. Even if everything was peachy-keen in your life, the virus, lockdown, unrest, political turmoil, and sense of fear and hopelessness that has gripped the nation is enough to bring even Pollyanna down. But, Beloved, you have a God in heaven who loves you. So much that He gave His only Son to redeem you and give you eternal life. Remember?

At the End of the Road

Every step Jesus took on earth, every day of His life brought Him closer to the cross. To pain. To beatings. To mocking and ridicule. To misery. To death. But the pain and misery and death brought Him closer to His resurrection. And to heaven. And to His Father. “But,” we say in our pain, “He is God and He has perfect wisdom of every situation He faced. He knew the outcome was glory.”
It’s not that simple for you and me, is it? We are often blindsided by life. By trials and struggles – disease, pain, fear, loss, broken relationships, financial crisis, rejection, unrest. How can we endure these things?. The same way Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “the author and perfector of our faith” looked beyond the cross to “the Joy set before Him.” He endured the cross and its shame because He knew that on the other side of it He would be reunited with His Father.
Please understand that I’m not saying we can only expect misery in this life and the good stuff comes in the next. God is a good Father, and He loves to heal and restore and repair and surprise us with blessings. He knows that when the pressure is on, we want relief now, not in some mystical, ethereal, ever-after place. What I’m trying to say is that every heartache, every struggle, every trial and pain brings us one step closer to the glory of eternal life. We have His Word on it. “I am going to [My Father’s house] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
At the end of it all, there is glory. Beloved, can you hold on just a little longer?

In the Master Weaver’s Hands

The Weaver

My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oftimes He weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I, the underside.

Not till the loom in silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

– Author Unknown (possibly Corrie Ten Boom)

Faith
Hope
Love
Joy
Each is a thread woven into the tapestry of the believer’s life. The crimson thread of Faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. The blue thread of Hope in the promise of eternal life. The gold thread of Love from God and for God and our fellow man. The silver thread of Joy that never wavers. The shuttle never leaves His loving hands. Beloved, God is crafting something beautiful of your life.

When the Tears Fall

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It’s six o’clock in the morning and my granddaughter is crying. I can hear her from my study. It’s probably just a diaper change – she hates those. But it’s breaking my heart. I’ve gotten up from my desk twice now and started back to see about her and stopped myself. Oh, how I want to comfort her and make whatever is making her cry go away. I think about all the times in her life she will probably cry – all the skinned knees and the times she doesn’t like hearing “No” and the broken hearts and disappointments that are coming. I wish I could protect her from them all. But I can’t. I know that. Still, every time she cries, my heart cries with her.

If I have such a response every time my granddaughter cries, how do you imagine God feels every time you and I cry? I am sure His great heart aches when ours breaks. In Psalm 56:8 David said that the Lord “Puts my tears in Your bottle—are they not in your record?” God is paying attention. When you cry, when the tears drip from your chin, He catches them, one by one. Do you know what that means Beloved? He is very near. He has drawn you into His arms so that He can gather every tear that falls. Your tears are precious to Him.

All is quiet now in Joy’s room. A clean diaper, a fresh cup of milk, and warm snuggles in her mommy’s arms work wonders. Her tears are gone and she is back in dreamland in her soft pink pajamas. My Nana-heart is happy.

Let the tears fall Beloved. God is near, like a good, good Father. Oh, how He loves you.

God’s Not Done With You

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“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” 1 John 3:2.

The children of the great composer, Bach, found that the easiest method of awakening their father was to play a few lines of music and leave off the last note. The musician would arise immediately and go to the piano to strike the final chord. His spirit could not leave the song incomplete. We all have projects we’ve started but shoved aside and left unfinished. We run out of time or funds or motivation. We lose interest and give up.

I look at my life sometimes, at all my starts and stops of Christian growth, and wonder if God has considered giving up on me. Has He just decided that I am just more trouble than I’m worth? Has He become frustrated with me (as I do with myself) and moved on to someone more capable, more intelligent, or more “spiritual” than me? Is He just going to leave me here in this unfinished state?

The Bible assures me that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). I remember a song I taught to the children at church:

He’s still working on me

To make me what I need to be

It took him just a week to make the moon and stars

The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars

How loving and patient He must be

‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me

Beloved, if you are frustrated because you just can’t seem to “get it right,” don’t give up on yourself. God hasn’t. He’s still working on you.

No More Shame

Ever done something that made you feel guilty? Who hasn’t? Guilt can be such a heavy load.  But some add to guilt the weight of shame. That was me. I wasn’t just guilty of my sins I was ashamed of them. And that shame wasn’t only what I’d done, added to that was shame because of what others had done to me. I didn’t just carry shame – shame was my identity.

Until the day that God gave me a vision of sorts. Of Jesus, bleeding and staggering on His way to His crucifixion. As He walked, he reached out into the mass of people that lined the road and picked up their sins and draped them across His shoulders. I was in the crowd and when He came to me, He didn’t pick up my sin. He picked up me and draped me over His shoulder. I stayed there through those agonizing hours. I felt Him struggle to breath. I heard Him cry out to the Father. I felt His body grow still. I had to turn my head when they stabbed the spear into His side. Somehow, I remained on His shoulders as they took His body down and wrapped Him in burial cloths. I lay with Him on the cold stone slab in the tomb. And I rose with Him three days later. The remarkable things was, I rose with no shame. None. It was gone.

Beloved I want you to envision this with me. When Jesus went to the cross, He took all your sin and all your shame with Him. When He was placed in the tomb, be still bore all your sin and all your shame. The He rose to life. And when He walked out of that tomb of death, He left your sin and shame behind. Buried. Done. Forever. If you struggle like I did with shame, you need to know that Jesus left it all in the grave. Hear this loud and clear: you are free of guilt and free of shame. You are a new, beautiful creature in Christ. Now lift your head and walk in it.

Left Out in the Rain

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Twice this week, I’ve been stuck outside in the rain. Sunday morning was my turn to pray during the worship service. Not wanting to be disruptive, I exited the building and walked around to the door nearest the prayer room only to find it locked. I knew the sanctuary doors were also locked. I had no way in. I tried to knock on the door to alert my prayer partner, but she couldn’t hear me. Then the sky let loose a torrent of rain. Thankfully, the awning kept me out of the deluge. When the rain slowed a bit, I walked around and happened upon one of the deacons who – glory be – had keys. I slid in for the last few minutes of prayer.

Yesterday, during a heavy storm at my office, our building took a lightning hit that set off the fire alarm. Which is VERY loud. I quickly called the maintenance supervisor and stepped out onto the patio entrance. There was just enough roof overhang to give me shelter from the downpour until the alarm could be silenced.

Jesus told a parable about five wise virgins and five foolish virgins who were all waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The wise virgins had filled their lamps and prepared extra oil. The foolish virgins had only what was in their lamps. As they waited all the virgins fell asleep, with all their lamps burning. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the wise virgins refilled their lamps and headed out to the celebration. The foolish virgins had to leave in search of more oil. By the time they arrived at the wedding site, the doors were locked, and they were denied entrance. (Matthew 25:1-13) I had a better understanding of that parable this week.

Jesus is coming back to gather His people – those who are ready through faith in Him as their Savior – and bring them to His wedding feast in heaven. For those who do not know Him there will be no last second scramble for salvation. Nor will they be able to “borrow” from the redeemed. If you do not have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, you will be shut out. But you don’t have to be. The Gospel is this: Jesus is the Son of God. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died an undeserved death to pay for your sins and mine. He was buried and after three days, was restored to life. He now sits in heaven, awaiting His Father’s command to return and gather every person who believed on Him for eternal life.

Beloved, I pray that includes you.

The Lord is Near

Some days I’m not feeling very “godly.” Some days I am just tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. Some days I don’t want to be wise or thoughtful or inspiring. I just want to hide in a corner until the weight is lifted. I know you understand. Some days we want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over our head until the problem is resolved, the money’s in the bank, the kid gets his act together, the test results are negative, the house is clean, the inbox is empty, the school opens back up, the bills are paid. But that’s not an option. And so we throw back the covers and swing our feet over the side until they touch down on the pile the dog left beside the bed. Great.
The Apostle Paul had some difficult days too. His message was rejected by the people he once counted as his friends. They tried to undermine the work he was doing for God. Then they tried to kill him – they threw stones at him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Yet from his prison cell, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Paul used the words, “joy” and “rejoice” thirteen times in this letter. But he didn’t throw those words out flippantly. He gave a reason to rejoice. “The Lord is near” (v. 5). He knew what he was claiming. In Acts 23, while sitting in a Roman prison, the Scripture says, “The Lord stood near Paul” (V. 11). The Lord came to Paul with a personal word of encouragement. He never forgot about the nearness of Jesus.
Oh, I get how difficult it is some days. I’ve had quite of few of those lately. I started writing this devotional from my own raw feelings. As I got to “The Lord is near,” the weight started to lift, and I know that I can make it through this day because Jesus is with me. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. It just means I don’t face it alone. So clean off your feet Beloved and get the day started. You’re in this together with Jesus.

Kingdom first

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Painting by Eric Enstrom

“I’ve got my priorities in order: God first, my family second, church third, work fourth, and everything else after that. That’s what the Good Book says!” “That’s great,” the teacher replied, “I am sure God will honor you for honoring Him.”

We had been discussing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The teacher, following the printed material, presented this verse as the man interpreted it: prioritize God above everything else in your life. I felt like this was falling short. As so often happens when we lift one verse out of a passage, we lose the context and when we lose the context we lose the meaning and the application.

This verse is not about priorities – when you put it back in its place, this verse is about the futility and faithlessness of worry. It would be helpful right now if you grabbed your Bible and read verses 25-34, then zero in on verses 31-32. Jesus said that “Pagans run after all these things” meaning food and clothing and the basic necessities of life. Is He saying “these things” are worldly and don’t matter to God? No. Notice the end of verse 32: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need [all these things].” They are legitimate needs. And God acknowledges that. What Jesus said that worry is out of place in the life of God’s children. He said that people who don’t have a heavenly Father have to seek the things they need. God’s children are to seek their Father, who sets a bountiful table.

Here’s something else that stuck out at me as I meditated on this passage. Jesus said “seek first His Kingdom” but He never says what to seek second or third. The truth is, there’s no other priority.  When you seek the kingdom first, you will find everything you need.