Bench-Pressing a Hersey Bar

“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.”
― Author Judith Viorst

When I was raising my children and dreaming of one day being–dare I say it–a famous author, I enjoyed reading Judith Viorst’s column in Redbook magazine each month. I also read her books. I even wrote to her once and received in return a sweet postcard.

When I become famous, I’ll answer my fan mail too, I thought.

Mrs. Viorst could make us chuckle about what it takes to keep house and raise children and maybe even teach us about resisting chocolate. But she couldn’t tell us where the ultimate source of strength comes from.

Like me, you’re probably faced with areas of weakness or a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting solved quickly enough for you. Where do you turn? Bench-pressing a dark chocolate candy bar seems like a good idea, but it doesn’t truly solve a problem of any magnitude. (Much as this chocoholic hates to admit that.)

My children are grown, but being a parent of a grown child possesses its own challenges. I’ve always been good at the housekeeping thing, but there are days I’d sooner eat that Hersey bar than sweep and mop the floors. And then, there’s the never-ending challenge of keeping finances in order, relationships from falling apart, and my health from doing likewise. I’m getting old and sort of broken down.

Heaven, help me! Literally.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When I’m honest, I’ll tell you I’m challenged on some days to keep my eyes on Jesus, the one who keeps me strong. We face things like the annoyance of a cancelled appointment, a disobedient child, needing an unexpected surgery, or the death of a loved one. Scripture says these things, which we can see, are “light and momentary troubles.”

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? Yet we’re told to stay strong because what eternity holds is worth it. God wouldn’t tell us a lie about eternity; it’s his dwelling place and inherent in his nature. So trust him for that and stay strong.

Back Up? Look Up!

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

October has arrived and people are planning fall events, one of which is called a Corn Maze. They’re meant to provide family fun and sometimes a little bit of Halloween mischief.

A corn maze is like any other maze built of shrubs. The difference between a corn maze and a maze of shrubs from those puzzles in the magazines is they’re 3D. The idea with any maze puzzle is to find your way from the opening of the maze and, without hitting any barriers, make it to the other side, where you can exit.

The puzzles are designed to have natural stops and starts built into them.fall-corn-maze-2-kids

I’ve done these puzzles numerous times. For the puzzle to be challenging going over the barriers doesn’t make sense. Besides, that’s cheating.

I could draw a line through one, but what’s the point? It’s more fun and satisfying to solve the puzzle and getting through by following the natural openings offered at each turn.

Furthermore, once I’m in, I can’t go around the maze. That means I’ll need to back up sometimes and start over.

So really, the only way out is through.

Life is like that. The way through isn’t straight. There are always many possible directions that look like the way to go, but we meet barriers at every turn. Natural stops and starts. We have to look for the openings that lead to other openings.

In a historical novel I read a few years back, two children asked the heroine to run through a maze. The first time she tried, she got lost, not to mention frustrated, as they ran ahead of her. The children, however, encouraged her to try a second time.

“Look up, instead of down,” they told her. “It might be easier.”

The advice didn’t make sense to her, but partway in, she looked up. There, in the upstairs window stood her Beloved, looking down at her in the maze. From his vantage point, he could see every turn that would take her to the other side of the puzzle.

Because she trusted him, she kept looking up and he guided her all the way out.

Naturally, the only way out was through.

15 A.W. Tozer Quotes

A.W. (Aiden Wilson) Tozer began his lifelong pursuit of God after hearing a street preacher in Akron, Ohio, at the age of seventeen. He lived from 1897 to 1963. The self-taught theologian committed his life to the ministry of God’s Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer. Some of his books include Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, God’s Pursuit of Man, Fiery Faith, and Whatever Happened to Worship?

Tozer imageFor your meditations today, here are fifteen quotes from A.W. Tozer.

“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want. And in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

“I am thankful that justice is in the hands of God.”

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”

“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion. I want all that God has or I don’t want any.”

“If your Christianity depends on a pastor’s preaching, then you’re a long way from where you should be.”

“Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart.”

“Rules for Self-Discovery:
What we want most;
What we think about most;
How we use our money;
What we do with our leisure time;
The company we enjoy;
Who and what we admire;
What we laugh at.”

“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”

“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.”

“We must not select a few passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

“Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

“We can be in our day what the heroes of faith were in their day – but remember at the time they didn’t know they were heroes.”

“God created the world out of nothing, can he not do anything in and through us?”

“We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”

God Asks Questions

Occasionally, I ask God a question. It’s not a case of questioning God, which is entirely different. Sometimes I just feel the need to have a conversation in which he makes things clearer. I don’t always understand.

For instance, I sometimes ask, “What’s going on here, Lord?” Hoping he’ll give me insight to a situation or how another person is responding, I check in with him first. Another one I ask is “Will you please direct me here, Lord? I’m not sure which way to go.”

These, obviously, aren’t hard questions for God. He can answer any question. When he wants to. The thing I’ve learned about asking God a question is sometimes he answers in a way I wasn’t expecting. God’s answer to my question might be that I get another situation. When asking for direction, he more often than not leads me to some place I never even considered. Or someplace I thought of but didn’t want to go.man in woods praying

God is in the habit of asking me questions as well. In fact, I get more questions from God than he gets from me.  To inspire me toward further spiritual maturity and to being conformed to the image of his Son, the questions are much harder for me than my questions are for him.

Obviously.

Some time ago, God asked me about my motivations and wanted me to be clear on something. Turnabout is fair play with him, for sure. This is what he asked me:

“What is the difference between your devotion to Jesus and devotion to your idea of what Jesus wants?”

This question is one I return to repeatedly. Because I tend to think I know what God wants, my actions will reflect that. If I don’t stop and consider first my relationship with Jesus and remember what his mission is, I create my own mission.

Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful that you’re always working and that your Son is as well. The questions you ask are sometimes difficult for me because I so often think I know the way you work and how you want to work in the world. Please keep reminding me that you are the one in charge, even when I don’t understand what’s going on. You’re the perfect parent and I trust you to raise me as a good Father would. For your glory, Amen.

“Awesome”

When did it happen? When did the word “awesome” become a throw-away word?

Here’s what I mean by throw-away.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “awe” this way: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration (respect), and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime. For example, “stood in awe of the king” or “regard nature’s wonders with awe.”

But now, it’s an everyday occurrence for people to refer to the most common things as “awesome.”

That t-shirt with the clever saying on it. “Oh, man, that’s awesome.” A program on TV, the actor in that TV show, a video someone shared on Facebook or YouTube, or hey, just about anything can be “awesome.”

But are they really?

Do these things invoke the kind of inspiration felt when we’re in the presence of something or Someone deserving of the definition? God, His creation and any of His works are truly awesome. There are few things that compare.

A.W. Tozer, a theologian and author of many books about worship, living in the presence of God and knowing Him personally, says this:

“What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us.”

What comes to your mind?

If our God is all-knowing, ever-present, sovereign, mighty, and constantly and impartially loving, the truest form of “awesomeness” is Him.

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Whenever I go stargazing, I’m in awe. When I think of how a baby grows and is born into the world, I’m in awe. Seeing God work through people who are broken and imperfect puts me in awe. God’s revealed message to us through His Word is awesome. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary brings me to a state of humility and awe.

I stand in awe of the King.

The other day I was listening to a song by one of my favorite Christian singer/songwriters, Rich Mullens. In “Awesome God,” he writes

“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power and love. Our God is an awesome God.”

That chorus is repeated over and over, a technique in songwriting I’m usually not fond of. But in this case, I don’t mind singing like that. Matter of fact, I was singing at the top of my lungs how awesome God is.

In my van. In front of God and everybody.

Because God and His creation are the truest form of the word “awesome

Digging Into The Bible

Over the years I’ve sat in many small groups of people studying the Bible in some fashion. Every group included at least one person who was unfamiliar with scripture and had no regular Bible reading plan.

I’ve always been passionate about helping people read and understand the Bible better. The reason for my passion is because I know if they keep reading, they’ll get to know God better. They’ll get to know Jesus, his Son. Over time, they’ll even begin to appreciate the Holy Spirit’s role in their lives.

We all enjoy forming relationships in a small group and that’s important. But I believe the small group experience will be enriched when people also form a growing relationship with God. To someone new to it all, even talking about a relationship with God can be confusing.

I understand that because I had questions too. I was too proud to ask them so for a long time I stayed ignorant about a lot of things God wanted me to know and do. Pretty much like I did everything, I relied on myself. I thank God for some good people who gently taught me that I didn’t know it all.  Often, I didn’t even know what I thought I knew.

If you know what I mean.

Today, I love to hear people speak up and ask questions referring to things they don’t understand about God or the Bible. It inspires me, knowing that they want the enlightenment scripture can bring. More than just trying to answer questions, however, I like to point them to Christ by encouraging them to dig into the Bible themselves.

In these cases “Where do I start?” is a common question.

Not a list of Ten Ways to Get to Know Your Bibleman-reading-bible

Rather than being clever and offering a quick fix and a list, here’s a Bible reading plan that doesn’t take much time. It’s pretty comprehensive, covering some significant stories and points in scripture. Even better, it just may give a person with lots of questions enough of a taste to want more. The result of completing the forty days might be that an individual–maybe you–begins a daily Bible reading routine.

Seasoned readers of the Bible might also give the forty-day plan a try. If how you’re doing it now has become a little stale (and it can; don’t feel guilty about that), go ahead and stop how you’re doing it. Reading passages which are seemingly unrelated might put some kick in your relationship with Christ as well. You can always return to the method you were previously engaged in.

God comes near when we draw near to him. Reading the Bible, meditating on what we read and praying for understanding open us up to hear his voice. And that’s something all of us often ask about.

“How do I hear God speak to me personally?”

A Suggested Forty-Day Bible Reading Plan

Day 1: Genesis chapters 1-2 (The Creation Account)
Day 2: Genesis chapter 3 (The Beginning of Sin)
Day 3: Genesis chapters 15, 17:15-27 (God’s covenant with Abraham)
Day 4: Genesis chapter 21:1-7; chapter 22 (God’s faithfulness and Abrahams faith)
Day 5: Exodus chapters 3-4 (God Calls Moses to deliver His people)
Day 6: Exodus 6 (The Ten Commandments)
Day 7 Joshua 1 (Conquering the Promised Land)
Day 8 1 Samuel 16-17 (David and Goliath)
Day 9: 1 Kings chapters 3; 8:1-9; 9 (King Solomon’s wisdom and the Temple)
Day 10 1 Kings 18 (The prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal)
Day 11: 2 Kings 25 (The Siege of Jerusalem and the Exile of Judah)
Day 12: Daniel 2-3 (Daniel in Babylon: The fiery furnace)
Day 13: Ezra 3 (Rebuilding the temple)
Day 14: Isaiah chapters 9, 53, 61 (Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah)
Day 15: Luke chapters 1-2 (The birth of Jesus)
Day 16: John 1:1-18 (Who Jesus Is)
Day 17: Luke 4:14-44 (Jesus begins his ministry)
Day 18: Matthew 5-6 (The core of Jesus’ teaching)
day 19: John 3 (God’s Love for the world)
Day 20: John 5 (Jesus’ Miracles and Authority)
Day 21: John 11 (Jesus’ Power Over Death)
Day 22: John 15 (The Christian Life Defined)
Day 23: John 17 (Jesus’ High Priestly prayer)
Day 24: Matthew 26-27 (The arrest and crucifixion of Jesus)
Day 25: John 20 (The resurrection of Jesus)
Day 26: Luke 24 (The ascension of Jesus )
Day 27: Acts 2 (The coming of The Holy Spirit)
Day 28 Acts 9 (The conversion of Saul)
Day 29 Acts 16 (The Gospel spreads to Europe)
Day 30 Acts 26 (Paul’s defense of the Christian Faith)
Day 31: Romans 3 (Justification by faith alone)
Day 32: Romans 7-8 (The battle with sin; Life in the Spirit)
Day 33: 1 Corinthians 13 (The way of Love)
Day 34: 1 Corinthians 15 (The power of the resurrection)
Day 35: Galatians 5 (Freedom in Christ)
Day 36: Ephesians 6 (The whole armor of God)
Day 37: Philippians 1:18-2:18 (Christ’s example for us)
Day 38: Colossians 3:1-17 (Putting on the new self)
Day 39: James 1 (Pure religion)
Day 40: Revelation 21-22 (The New Heaven and the New Earth)

Bible reading plan copyright 2005, Crossway; Value Compact Edition, English Standard Version (ESV)

Questions For God

When I was a teenager, I began to have some doubts about my faith. Whenever I would say something even closely resembling such a thing, my mother would say, “Don’t question God, Paula.”

Now that my doubts have been cleared up, I have great faith in God and trust him with everything. However, that journey to complete trust wasn’t down an easy road. Most of the time I discovered his faithfulness through difficult times.

Something else I discovered through becoming familiar with scripture is that there is a difference between questioning God and asking him questions. Questioning him, in my opinion, displays an attitude based on a lack of trust. Asking questions is based on an honest search for God’s heart.

I look at people in the Bible as examples. King David asked questions in many of his psalms. The story of Job, a man God described as “blameless and upright” is full of questions he would like to ask God. The prophets, especially Jeremiah, had questions for God. Jeremiah wrote a whole “letter” to God full of lamentations. Mary asked Gabriel how God would accomplish the virgin birth.

Jesus wasn’t questioning his Father when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to have the cup removed. He was lamenting what he would face in the crucifixion.

Often, it’s in this state of lament that we find ourselves asking hard questions of our Maker.Q A for blog

Examining these instances of lament–whoever it is in scripture–the people involved do the same thing. They often describe the situation to God. They ask their questions. Then they turn from the questions to praising God for what he’s done in the past. They tell him how much they trust him.

Looking back, I believe my doubts were simply a case of wanting some questions answered. I was an immature Christian and needed to have those answers.

Doubt isn’t inherently a bad thing. If our doubts lead us to ask questions and those questions lead us to sound belief, they can create a closer relationship with the Lord.

Doubt accompanied by the questioning attitude, however, can lead to a hard heart. That inevitably causes distance from God.

When we come to God with questions we may not always get an answer. Or the answer we hope for. But we’ll be drawing closer to him, remembering our dependence on him and remaining teachable by his Spirit.

Dear heavenly Father, help me to remember that there are people who, whether Christians or not, have sincere questions they need answered. Remind me that I still come to you with my own. Give me the ability to extend grace and not judge someone’s lack of faith because they have questions. I pray that all who seek you with all of our hearts–even through our questions–will find you as you have promised we will.

Jonah and a Big-Mouthed Fish

I happened to be reading a Highlights magazine in the waiting room at my doctor’s office last week. I don’t often read magazines for children, but this one caught my eye because of a cover blurb.

“Whoa! Whale Sharks,” it said.whale shark 3

The article in the February 2015 issue was fascinating. As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps this huge fish wasn’t of the species God chose to swallow Jonah. The story of Jonah is often referred to as “Jonah and the whale,” but that’s not the animal name given in the Bible.

The King James Version says, “Now the Lord had prepared a a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

The New International Version reads: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”

Yet another version, the New Revised Standard Version, says “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17, emphasis mine)

It’s obvious to the intelligent reader this is not a whale, but a fish. Whales are mammals. Fish are not. Not only that, but scripture says God caused this to happen.

Imagine how thrilled I was today to find a story in some online news about whale sharks. The basic information about these animals is agreed upon from research which scientists have done on them. But their migration patterns, among other aspects of their lives, are still a mystery.whale shark distribution

Most of us were captivated by the story of Jonah when we were children. It even becomes captivating when we’re adults because of the very idea of someone surviving inside a fish for three days and three nights.

Some have said this story can’t really be true.

God never answers all the questions we have about what happens in the Bible. Scripture includes many mysteries. Perhaps the mystery of the whale shark’s lifestyle will never be known in total. I believe it’s nice to have this gentle giant to fall back on as a possible answer to where Jonah spent those three days where he came to his senses and decided to obey the Lord.

A Foolproof GPS

I pulled into the bank drive-through behind a car bearing a license plate reading WEARAMI.

Giving the motorist the benefit of the doubt on how to spell ‘where,’ I credited her with creatively conveying a message of confusion within a seven-letter limit.

Waiting behind her, I applied the question to my life in general and to my position as a Christ follower in particular. Here’s a list of proofs from scripture that show me where I am insofar as God is concerned. I am:

Close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11)
United with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17)
Connected to him by his love (Romans 8: 38, 39)
Seated with him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6)
Following close on his heels (John 10:27)
Upheld by his righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)Sony gps

Perhaps if that woman had a global positioning system (GPS) in her car, she wouldn’t doubt her whereabouts. But even then, a GPS is a computer. Computers are only as intelligent as they’ve been programmed to be. For instance, a GPS doesn’t ‘know’ that the route for which it gave instructions has a detour now because of a barricade at an accident site.

While traveling with friends who relied on their GPS, it happened that every time we returned to the hotel, the GPS’s final direction led us into a hedge.

A GPS is not foolproof.

But God’s Positioning System is foolproof. When he says, “I will never leave you,” we can trust him.
Even better than knowing where we stand, is knowing God always has his eye on us.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

And if his eye is on the sparrows, I know he watches me.