The Incredible Power of Memory

Today I walked in the rain, sheltered by my big black umbrella and enjoying a brief time with the Lord in my corner of his creation. My walk took me a half-mile down our country road to Lake Winnebago.

I smiled as I discovered deep blue violets and graceful wild geraniums growing along the roadside. During the months of May in my childhood, I picked bouquets of these pretty blossoms and other wildflowers to delight my mother. Those were sweet times.

Today birds whistling, trilling, and chirruping with all their hearts presented a great symphony that filled the morning air. Again I smiled, recalling all the springtime mornings I awakened to their joyous songs.

Memory is a powerful tool. That’s probably why God invites us to remember those times when he has answered our prayers and helped us. Why bother to remember? Because such memories cheer and encourage us. They help us hang on when life becomes difficult. They remind us that God is good. He deeply loves us and has filled his Word with wonderful promises of all he delights in doing for us.

Has God answered a prayer dear to your heart? Remember and be encouraged. Has God restored your health or the health of someone you love? Remember and be filled with thanksgiving. Has God given you the wisdom or strength to overcome an obstacle in your life? Remember and sing his praises. Keep a treasury of your memories of God’s goodness. It will encourage you to trust him today and in the days to come.

Focus: “I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts” ~ Psalm 77:11-12, New Living Translation.

How about you? What memories of God’s goodness do you hold dear to your heart?

(This blog post adapted from a May 2001 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love with Shoes On.)

Forgiven by God

Evening in Jerusalem closed around Jesus as he shared a last meal with his disciples in the Upper Room. When supper was nearly over, he took a cup of wine and announced God’s new covenant to save them–“an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you” (Luke 22:20, New Living Translation).

No longer would sins be forgiven by sacrificing blemish-free lambs, goats, and bulls to God. God’s new covenant would soon be sealed for all time with the blood of his Son–the one Person who (1) was born sinless and (2) lived an entirely sin-free life.

Weeks later, Peter clearly declared to all who would listen the identity of that sinless One–“Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the man you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all heaven for people to call on to save them” (Acts 4:12).

But why do we need to be saved? What does Jesus’ blood save us from?

From God’s judgment. When we sin–no matter how small, we bring down on our heads the penalty of death. First, spiritual death which makes us slaves to sin here on earth. Later, when our bodies die, the judgment includes another death–eternal separation from our loving God who is  “so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his son, and our sins are forgiven” (Ephesians 1:7).

Imagine! If we want it, we can have it–our sins forgiven, our slates wiped clean by the blood of Jesus–the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. If we will only accept the precious shed blood of Christ Jesus as payment for our sins (Ephesians 2:13).

Why blood?

God’s Word tells us that “without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Yet God knew the debt we owed him was far beyond our ability to pay, so he paid that debt himself! He died in our place and rose from the dead. What other response can we give to Jesus our Savior than to shout for joy.

Focus: “All praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us” ~ Revelation 1:5, New Living Translation.

How about you? How do you instinctively  respond to the idea of your sins forgiven through Jesus?

God’s Care in Frightening Circumstances

As soon as my husband left for his out-of-town seminar, I hopped in my car to shop for Mom’s birthday gift. Five miles up the road, my little red Saab accelerated on its own. I pressed the brakes. It slowed, but the moment I let up, my car shot ahead with a vengeance!

All thoughts of shopping fled as I headed straight for the garage that serviced our cars. Closed.

“What now, Lord?”

A desire to head home gripped me. I wrestled  with my runaway car for two miles before pulling into a Volvo sales lot. Turning off the ignition, I rested my head against the steering wheel and wept. Safe for the moment, I was still three miles from home and no closer to solving my problem. “What should I do, Lord?”

A tall man in a spotless white jumpsuit appeared at the passenger side door. “Can I help you?”

He listened to my story. “Bring it into the garage. I’ll take a look.”

I glanced at my purse, sure that what little money I had with me was about to disappear.

He looked under the hood and sprayed a “sticky valve.” With a smile, he told me the trouble would disappear by the time I reached home. “No charge,” he insisted.

My nerves had begun to settle as I arrived at the next intersection. Two cars pulled up behind me while I waited for a white semi with “Student Driver” splashed in red along its side. It turned onto our road. Too late I saw the danger!

Amid a series of deafening hisses, its back tires rolled toward my front bumper. Frantic, I fumbled to jam my car in reverse–without success. As the huge tires pressed against my bumper, I screamed for God’s help. “Jesus!” The truck stopped and fell silent.

I reached home in a sorry state of nerves. Collapsing  on the living room floor, I wept. “Lord, why did you let this happen to me? Why didn’t you take care of me?”

I did, child. You’re home and you’re safe. His gentle words soothed my heart.

God doesn’t always spare us life’s frightening circumstances. But whatever we face, if we trust and obey him, we come to know the blessing of his shield of love.

Focus: “You bless the godly man, O Lord; you protect him with your shield of love” ~ Psalm 5:12, New Living Translation.

How about you? Can you recall a time when God saved you in the midst of a frightening circumstance? Please share.

The Choice Is Ours

Last night I dreamed about a huge snake! He was of such length that I never did see the end of him. Strangely enough, he was also flat–about a foot or more wide, and though menacing, never dared touch me. Instead, he hovered and lurked and watched.

I wonder if that was Eve’s experience, except that, as she stared at the incredible creature, it talked!

The serpent tipped its head, never taking its penetrating gaze from her. It seemed to smile. “S-s-so?” it hissed. “Did God really say that you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”

Eve blew an exasperated breath. Of course not! “It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat or even touch it, or we will die.”

“You won’t die!” the serpent declared.

At this point, Eve had stayed too long. Within minutes, the serpent talked her into believing God was withholding something desirable. If she ate that delicious-looking fruit, she would be as wise as God! Eve fell for the serpent’s trick (Genesis 3:1-7). She ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. The penalty of death from which God had tried to protect them became their heritage and ours.

No doubt about it! God’s enemy is crafty. His purpose is to trick us into sin. He tempts us to question God’s goodness, to doubt the wisdom of following God’s commands. “You won’t die!” he hisses.

But Jesus called Satan the “Father of Liars.” That Father of Liars continually tempts us to believe that God is withholding some good from us. But the truth is: God wants to fill our lives with joy, satisfaction, and blessing, not destruction and regret.

The choice is ours, just as it was for Adam’s son, Cain.

“Why are you so angry? So dejected?” God says to us as he once said to Cain. “You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you … you must subdue it” (Genesis 4:7, New Living Translation).

The greatest love we will ever know is in our relationship with God. The best life we will ever experience is the one we choose to live in obedience to the Lord God Almighty because we love him.

We can believe the devil’s lies, or we can trust and obey God. The choice–and its consequences–are ours.

Focus: “The thief’s [Satan’s] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My [Jesus’] purpose is to give life in all its fullness” ~ John 10:10, New Living Translation.

How about you? What’s been your experience as you’ve made one or the other choice? Which works best for you and why?

Overcoming Thirst

Believe it or not, at one time no well had a bucket with which to draw water. Instead, each day a woman would bring not only a pitcher in which to carry water home to her family, but a rope and a hard leather bucket to draw water.

That’s why when Jesus and his disciples arrived tired and thirsty outside a small Samaritan town, they had no means to get water from the well. While his disciples went into town for food, Jesus rested at the well. Before long, a woman came with her pitcher and bucket, and he asked her for a drink.

She was startled! Why would he–a Jew–even talk to her–a despised Samaritan woman? This just wasn’t done!

But his question served its purpose. It opened their conversation, and she soon discovered he knew she was a woman whose life had turned out to be anything but what she had hoped. Married and divorced five times, she now lived with a man who was not her husband. Only minutes into their conversation, she begged Jesus for the “living water” he spoke of so that she would never be thirsty again (John 4:15).

We all know what it’s like to be thirsty. We’ve known hot days and parched throats. We’ve also known a thirst in our hearts that’s harder to define but just as insistent. Trying to satisfy that thirst, we turn to all kinds of things. But they fail us. They do  not possess the power of the “living water” Jesus promises.

After a while we begin to realize that he alone can supply what we need: (1) a brand-new cleanness through his forgiveness of our sins, and (2) the feeling of being wrapped in the bright and shining garment of being right with God, the one that replaces the wretched rags of our old sin-trapped lives.

The truth is that we know ourselves well and long to be better than we are. And we can be.

The good news is that Jesus stands beside his eternal well of love, ready to draw up all the “living water” we need. The moment we believe and plead for it, it is ours. His promise is true.

Focus: “Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” ~ Matthew 5:6, New International Version.

So how about you? Are you ready for the “living water” Jesus offers to those who thirst for righteousness? If so, what are you going to do about it?

What Are We Living for?

You’ve heard it. You may have even said it yourself. “He lives for sports!” “I live to eat!” “They live for their children!”

Oh, yes. Whenever we pour our life energies into someone or something, we are definitely living for that pursuit.

And it isn’t only men who live for sports. Here in Wisconsin, women also spend every spare moment reading, thinking, and talking about the Packers. We deck ourselves out in green-and-gold and wouldn’t miss a game at Lambeau Field or on TV. We even show up at church on football Sundays in our Packer finery. Okay, I’ll admit it. I wear Packer earrings, jerseys, and socks on game days! I suspect it’s not much different for fans of other football franchises.

Oh, and how about those of us who love to eat? Love to collect and exchange recipes, try new foods, go on and on talking about our favorites foods and spreading the news about our favorite restaurants. We enjoy heaping our plates at the barbecues, banquets, and buffets. Wouldn’t miss a church potluck or family celebration. Oh, how we love our food!

And, let’s face it. We all know parents who pour the lives, time, and money into their children.

Is this bad? Not really.

Actually, it’s good to have a pursuit that captures our hearts and makes life worth living. Even Jesus cherished a pursuit that captured his heart and made his life on earth worth living. He poured himself into teaching, healing, and giving so that we each might know how much he loves us. He was so focused on gaining an intimate love relationship with us that he was willing to die to make it possible.

He knew that we could not have a love relationship with our holy God until someone paid the price for our sins. He volunteered, and it cost his death on the cross. The ultimate act of his love.

Since his resurrection three days later, Jesus has remained focused on his pursuit. He waits eagerly for us to respond–to be so captivated by his unconditional love that we joyfully pour our lives into learning to know and love him more each day.

Focus: “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for their sake and was raised” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:15, New American Bible.

How about you? Who or what do you live for? Have you already responded to the Lord’s love?

 

Promised Disaster Averted

What if you were sixteen years old and suddenly made president of the United States of America? What would you do?

Long ago, Josiah faced that horrendous problem when made king of Judah. For the next four years he sought God for wisdom for his chaotic land. Then, realizing the nation’s troubles were a direct result of the stench of the people’s sins and disregard for God, he set about to cleanse his country. He ordered all carved idols and cast images, all pagan shrines and altars and Asherah poles torn down and destroyed. It took six years.

Next, he sent for workers from all over the land to come to the Temple in Jerusalem. They set to work repairing, renovating, and restoring the magnificent worship center that Judah’s earlier kings had let fall into ruin.

In the midst of this work, the High Priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law of the Land and sent it to the young king. Josiah tore his clothes in despair. “The Lord’s anger has been poured out against us  because our ancestors have not obeyed the Word of the Lord, “he cried. He then sent Hilkiah and others to ask the Lord what they must do.

The prophetess Huldah gave them a message from God. Yes, the curses written in God’s Word would come to pass because the people had abandoned him and worshiped other gods. But, because the king had humbled himself and wept before the Lord, wanting to change his ways and the ways of his nation, God would not send the promised disaster during his lifetime.

Josiah took swift action. He summoned all the people to the Temple. There he read the entire Book of the Covenant and renewed that covenant with God. He pledged to keep its commandments with all his heart and soul and required his people to do the same.

Everyone made a fresh start. Throughout Josiah’s lifetime, they worshiped only the Lord God. They lived in obedience to his Word, and God blessed them for it.

We now live in times where our nation is in great danger. The people in these United States live largely ignorant of the great precepts of our United States Constitution. They barely think of, much less prize, its amazing freedoms which are fast eroding before our very eyes. As a result, these freedoms given to us by God who impressed them on the hearts of our founding fathers may soon disappear.

Unless we turn away from our selfishness and turn back to honoring God and this country which he raised up as a haven where all men (and women) are created equal, we have little hope. Yet it’s not too late to choose God’s way and save our land. God’s Word states it clearly.

Focus: “Live in such a way that God’s love can bless you” ~ Jude 1:21, New Living Translation.

How about you? What can you do  so that God can bless you and our nation? How can you help turn things around in our nation?