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The Secret of Contentment

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Three times he was beaten with rods.  Five times he received 39 lashes of the whip.  Three times he was shipwrecked and once stoned and left for dead.  Yet, the Apostle Paul declared that in every situation, he was content.

Whether he had little or plenty, whether he was in a place of comfort or in suffering, Paul declared:

“I (Paul) have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . .” (Phil.4:12 NIV)

Beaten, flogged,

stoned, shipwrecked,

hungry and suffering, yet still content?

With the turmoil and uncertainty that come with 21st Century living, who doesn’t find it at times, maybe even most of the time, a struggle to be content?  And when I am faced with uncomfortable challenges, difficult situations, or overwhelming events in my life, my typical response is just to “grit my teeth” – “to grin and bear it” – to just endure it.  But certainly I wouldn’t declare that I am content in those situations.  But not Paul!

He learned how to be content in the most difficult times of his life.  Even while imprisoned in Rome facing certain execution, he possessed an inner peace.  But fortunately for us Paul didn’t keep this secret of living, the secret of how to live in contentment, to himself.  For in the very next verse, he reveals his secret:

“(For) I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”             (Phil 4:13 NLT)

Paul’s secret was to draw on Christ’s strength which empowered him to be content even in uncertain and adverse times.  And what was true for Paul remains true for us today.  We can learn to be content when we face uncertainty and adversity – by turning to the Lord for strength.

After all it was Jesus who taught us to pray this way:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  (Matt  6:11)

Surely this means more than asking the Lord for a daily provision of food.  It means we can also ask Him for the bread of strength each day – strength that comes from His wisdom, His comfort, His mercy, and His favor.  This is the daily bread that will strengthen us as it did Paul, so that we too can be “content in any and every situation.”

 

A Turbulent Ride

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The pilot’s voice was calm, even matter-of- fact.

“There will be a bit of turbulence as we land, but not a problem.  Make sure your seatbelts are fastened securely, and we will be landing safely momentarily.”

No sooner had these words been spoken, when the plane suddenly was buffeted by gusts of wind. The plane bounced side to side as the wings tipped up and down.  I had experienced the bumping of a turbulent plane ride in the past, but this was different.  Being jostled from side to side was unsettling.

Truth be told I became more than a bit anxious!  As I double-checked my seat belt and breathed a prayer to the Lord to keep us safe, I then reminded myself of the calmness and sureness of the pilot’s words.  He said, “No problem. We will land safely.” 

Even as the wheels touched the runway, the wind continued to rock the plane. But in that moment, I made a choice.  I chose to trust the words of that pilot who had far more experience with air turbulence than I did.  That trust gave me peace, that trust instilled a confidence that we would arrive safely  at the gate even though in the moment it didn’t feel like it.

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A Small Stone

He stood nine feet tall. Clothed in armor weighing over 120 pounds, armed with an oversized javelin and sword, his presence was “full on” intimidation.  His mocking only intensified the dread and fear felt by his adversaries.

Goliath was the champion of the Philistines and with the contempt of a bully he challenged the strongest among the Israelites to face him.  Yet not one soldier dared stepped forward.  But a young man named David did.

Without a helmet, chest plate or shield,

without  a sword or javelin of his own,

David rushed out to meet this giant with a slingshot and a few stones.

Surely this weapon must have seemed laughable to Goliath.  But when David placed that first stone into his slingshot and hurled it at the giant, that stone represented David’s faith in God to give him victory over this giant.  One small stone, hurled in faith, felled this hulk of humanity who had overwhelmed the army of Israel with a debilitating fear.

One small stone!  Perhaps this is why Jesus said,

“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move.” (Matt. 17:20 NLT)

Or as we learn from David:

Faith the size of a small stone can fell a giant. Continue Reading

Amazing Love

love-baby-famillyBefore she could squeeze my finger,

before she could light up my day with her smile,

before she could lay her head against my chest and fall asleep,

she was loved.      And, is loved.

As I hold my daughter’s newborn in my arms, make no mistake, she has totally captured by heart. Love for this little one wells up within me, not because of anything she has done but because of who she is.  She is the daughter of my daughter.

As I lovingly rock my granddaughter to sleep, I am reminded how the depths of my love fall far short of God’s extravagant love for us.

“. . . nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. . . . No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God . . . “(Rom. 8: 38-39 NLT)

His love for us is an extraordinary love; a love we did not or could not earn.  He loves me not because I teach a Bible class or am involved in prison ministry.  He doesn’t love me because I go to church or attend a prayer meeting.  Certainly these are important expressions of my faith that please the Lord.  But his love for me, His love for us, is not generated by our deeds.

No, His extravagant love for us is because of who He is and who He has chosen us to be – His sons and daughters!  He loves us because we are His children, adopted into the family of God.  An adoption made possible because His only begotten Son “bled red” for us on the Cross, an ultimate testimony of His amazing love!

 

Celebrate!

Over 2,000 years ago, God the Son entered humanity as a mere infant – not as a grown man ready to minister but as a helpless baby.  He who was equal in power, majesty, and glory with God the Father and God the Spirit did not cling to that equality.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, humbled himself and became a human being. He who was the Creator willingly became created.  He who was infinite became finite.

This humbling He experienced was not an experiment or an exploration in curiosity.  His humiliation had a divine purpose – one we celebrate each December.  We celebrate the birth of the One who made the choice to become one of us, so we in turn can become one with Him.

For only by becoming one of us could God die for us, saving us from a destiny of eternal separation from His presence.  In fact, in just hours before Jesus was apprehended in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for us.  Yes, he prayed not only for his disciples who had been with him for 3 ½ years, but he prayed for all of us – we who would become his disciples centuries later.  Look at this excerpt of his prayer to God the Father:

“My prayer is not for them (the 12 disciples) alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me . . .  they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me . . .”  (John 17:20, 22 NIV)

So this Christmas, let us with renewed appreciation celebrate the plan of God the Father, executed by God the Son empowered by God the Spirit – a plan that makes it possible for us to become one with the One who became one of us!

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Gifts

The Pharisees stood on the street corners praying eloquent prayers – loud and long.  They recited the scriptures flawlessly and gave alms to the poor so that everyone could note how much they had given.  And, they dutifully brought their sacrifices to the temple to be placed on the altar. Their prayers, their giving, their sacrifices were their “gifts” to God – gifts given to prove to others they were indeed pious, righteous, holy men of God.  And no one dared dispute their claim.  No one until they encountered Jesus.

As he observed their hypocrisy, he rebuked the Pharisees with a truth they knew by heart but had not changed their hearts.

“. . . which is more important the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy?” (Matt. 23:19 ISV)

The focus of the Pharisees was on what they were giving to God instead of on the One to whom their gifts were to be given.  Their focus was on their hollow “holiness” instead of the One who is truly holy.  For the Pharisees sought the praise of men rather than praise from God.

And it is wisdom for us to learn from the folly of the Pharisees.  The admonition of Jesus is still relevant for us today.

Whatever gifts we have, great or small,

the gifts of teaching or writing,

the gifts of administration or leadership,

the gifts of care or serving,

the gifts of counsel or compassion,

the gifts of music or creativity,

the gifts of prayer and intercession,

whatever gift or gifts the Lord has placed into our lives, it isn’t the gift in and of itself that is holy or worthy of praise.  It is when we offer what we have on the altar of His Sovereignty, on the altar of His Will that makes our gifts anointed and holy.  Instead of seeking the praise of others for the things we do or accomplish, let our gifts bring glory and praise to the One who is holy!

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From the Heart

With only a microphone in her hand, she walked to the center of the darkened stage. Before the musicians struck the first chord, before she uttered her first note, she closed her eyes for a moment hoping by the end of her song, by the time she finished singing her last note, she would have a “4 chair turn.” Or at least a “1 chair turn” – the sign that one of the four celebrity coaches had chosen her to be on their singing team on the popular television show called “The Voice.”

And so she sang. Pitch perfect. Every word of the lyrics sung without hesitation. It was just as she had imagined it would be, except when the music stopped, not one of the coaches had turned their chair.

Barely able to keep tears from flowing, her disappointment was visible, as the coaches spoke words of encouragement.

You have a beautiful voice.

Your pitch was perfection.

You have a gift.

But it isn’t just being able to sing beautifully to music.

You have to sing the song from the heart.

That was what she was missing, she didn’t sing from the heart. It wasn’t her lack tone or range. It wasn’t that her phrasing was out of sync. She had the precision, but she didn’t sing with heartfelt emotion that connects the words of the song to those who are hearing them.

Now I am the first to admit that I am not blessed with the gift of a beautiful singing voice. My range is narrow and I can easily sing off key. Certainly I would never qualify to sing on any stage, but I still can relate to the coaches’ advice when it comes to singing a song of worship to the Lord.

His concern is not how melodious our voices are or if we are able to sing every word of a worship song with precision. His desire is that we sing unto Him our words of praise “from the heart.” What we sing needs to connect to the One to whom we are singing. In fact, Paul admonishes us to:

“ . . . sing and make music from the heart unto the Lord.” (Eph. 5:19 NIV)

So whether it is during a church service and a time you are alone in prayer, our songs of worship to the Lord must not become routine. We must sing “from the heart” unto the Lord.

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So next Sunday, when the musicians strike their first chord, when the worship team sings that first note, let’s not be an “audience.” Let’s join in, not just singing the lyrics of a song as part of a church service. Instead, let’s be inspired to participate by lifting up our voices, making music from our hearts unto the Lord. Let’s connect the words of the song to the One whom we worship. Remember, it is not how well we sing, but whether what we sing expresses the awe and love we have for the Lord.

 

The Master Planner

Before the Great Creator turned the earth from a chaotic mass enveloped in dark vapors into a living planet,

before He filled it with all manner of vegetation and living creatures,

before He formed the father of humanity from the dust of the ground and the mother of humanity from man’s rib, our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God knew who each one of us would be.

Before we were ever formed in our mother’s womb, our Great Intelligent Designer knew our complex genetic code, our DNA that makes us singularly unique. Truly God’s handiwork is amazing when it comes to our physical DNA, what is even more amazing is that the Master Planner also placed in us a spiritual DNA.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.                    Eph. 2:10 (NLT)

 For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.  Eph. 2:10 (The Voice)

God has a divine plan with good things for us to accomplish. But all too often we consider our lack of talent or abilities and question whether God truly has a plan for us.  Perhaps for those special Christians, the spiritual elite – the pastors, evangelists, missionaries or Bible teachers, but me?

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Praying for You

On the last night with his disciples, gathered around the table, Jesus prepares them for the hours ahead. He reminds them how he will be arrested and put to death. His words are not what they want to hear. But they are the truth!

Jesus knows his disciples will abandon him. He knows that Peter who is so adamant he would never abandon Jesus, that even Peter will deny him and run for his life.

Jesus knows the hours and the days ahead are pivotal in the lives these disciples. They will be overwhelmed with grief, despair, guilt, and doubt.

He knows this will be the opportune time for Satan to step in and seek to destroy their faith. So Jesus tells Peter,

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.                     (Luke 22:31 NIV)

In other words, Satan wanted to separate the disciples from Jesus, like chaff is separated from the grain of wheat. Satan wanted to destroy their faith in Jesus and stop them from fulfilling their divine destiny. But Jesus intervened with prayer.

” But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”    (Luke 22:32 NIV)

Jesus prayed for his disciples that though their faith would waver, their faith would not fail.

untitled (7)And God the Father answered his prayers. God sent His Holy Spirit to strengthen the faith of these disciples. From the ashes of guilt and despair, from the burden of overwhelming guilt, the Holy Spirit comforted and empowered these disciples to become the mighty apostles who established Christ’s Church here on earth.

Yet on the same night that Jesus told his disciples he had prayed for them, he also revealed this truth for us.

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Water to Wine

It’s the baffling, head-scratching miracle.

The “why this one?” miracle.

At the request of his mother, Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding reception.  His very first miracle!

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Not a lame man being healed. Nor a blind man receiving sight. Not a leper being made whole. No, this miracle, his first miracle, is turning water into wine.  No one would suffer if the flow of wine stopped except perhaps the bridegroom from momentary embarrassment.

So don’t you agree that it seems strange that this would be the first miracle Jesus performed?Every time I would read the account of this miracle, I wondered why it was even documented in the Scriptures.

But often, from what is at first baffling to us God teaches powerful lessons.  Recently as I read John 2 once again, I was stopped by a truth central to this miracle:  Jesus didn’t just turn water into wine; he turned water in fine wine. The wine was so fine that the banquet master was stunned by its quality.

Suddenly I saw in this miracle what I had never realized before. This first miracle foreshadows the transforming work Jesus does for us! He can transform our ordinary, mundane lives into extraordinary, remarkable lives.  But in order for that to happen, we have to heed the words of instruction Mary gave the servants at that wedding banquet.

“Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:11 NLT)

The servants obeyed.  They followed the instructions Jesus gave them.  And, the water they poured into the large jars was miraculously turned into fine wine.

For our lives to be transformed,  we too have to do what Jesus tells us to do.  We have to be obedient to His  words of instruction given to us in the Scriptures. We have to live the truths and values of our faith.  Because when we do, Jesus can perform his first miracle in our lives; he can take the “average” and transform it into excellence.   He can still turn water into fine wine!

For those reading “A Hand On My Shoulder,” I have posted the last three chapters of M.D. Beall’s memoir. God placed His Hand on a young girl in the UP in the early years of the 20th Century and took her on a journey of faith that continues to encourage us today. Indeed, God transformed her life:  he turned “water” into “fine wine!” Although M.D. Beall finished writing about her life of faith in the 1950’s, God continued to place His Hand on her shoulder until a September day in 1979 when she went into the presence of the Lord.

If Mom Beall, as many called her, touched your life, I would like to invite you to share your experience by leaving a reply (click on “Leave a response”).   How wonderful it would be to read how her story continues in the lives of believers today.