C.C. Habakkuk’s hope – a prayer for today #188

Today I find myself echoing and sharing in an ancient prayer, a prayer from the 7th century actually. It is the prayer of Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet of God. It was his prayer then, it has become my prayer now. First Habakkuk says,

“But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)

Wouldn’t that be something? a hushed earth, waiting to hear the voice of God, Creator of all. Reminds me of the words in Psalm 46:10,

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

So Habakkuk prays, “Lord, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

Renew them (God’s deeds) in our day, – what was going on that Habakkuk wanted God to intervene? Well, Habakkuk 1:2-4 gives us a clue as to what was troubling Habakkuk,

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (ever feel like that?) Or cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ but You do not save? Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”

Now you understand, dear readers, why I would make Habakkuk’s prayer my own today, why it is so personal and so relevant given what we are witnessing in our world at this time. There is strife, and conflict abounds. Sounds just like what is happening all around us today, doesn’t it? So I guess I understand how Habakkuk felt when he cried out to God, How long, O Lord? I feel Habakkuk’s anger and pain as he asks God,

“Why then do You tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” and Habakkuk heard God’s words,

“See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith – . . . Because he (the wicked) is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples. . . . For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them. Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.” (Habakkuk 2:4-11) Reminds me of the stones ready to cry out at Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, should the people be silenced. Then another warning –

“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! . . . For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.” (Habakkuk 2:12 & 17)) This admonition is followed by something to look forward to, words proclaiming hope for the future –

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

I can hardly imagine it! That must be the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11) Hope – hope on a not yet visible horizon, but hope nonetheless.

I confess – I can feel overwhelmed by the darkness of these days, by the violence and the bloodshed which seem a constant presence with us. Evil appears to have the upper hand. Churches are not fully open and some are still closed altogether, while streets are full of angry mobs and burning buildings. It is now that I want the faith Habakkuk had when he asked God to renew His great deeds in our day; in our time make them known.

Habakkuk wanted to see God bring restoration, healing, peace and prosperity to a land he loved. But he knew that could only happen if the people sought God and returned to God’s righteous ways of living. And so, surrounded by evil, by violence and bloodshed, by oppression and injustice, by destruction and conflict (sound familiar?) Habakkuk prayed. Habakkuk prayed for God’s intervention, for God to enter in – pleading with God, in wrath to remember mercy. Then Habakkuk prayed these words,

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Though . . . yet . . . – that’s a prayer of faith! And I want to make it mine today! Though evil seems to have the upper hand and darkness to prevail, yet I will rejoice in God, my Savior, in whom there is no shadow of turning but only the fullness of goodness and light. I will cry out to Him, I will wait on Him, I will put my hope in Him and in what He will do. For,

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14)

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. warning labels and road signs #187

The foods we buy, the medicines we take, the appliances and other things we purchase all come complete with warning labels, whether FDA or otherwise. We can consider ourselves forewarned before we consume something or before we use a particular product. “Keep out of reach of children” is a common warning as is “discontinue use if . . . ” (you fill in the blank) From hair color to power tools, warnings abound about their proper use and potential pitfalls. If only we would read the fine print! (which I confess – in my haste, I often overlook the reading and the heeding of the properly printed warnings of possible problems that might occur with the foods or other products that I purchase)

So today I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be good if life came with warning labels? I mean, I never know what a day will bring and I too often find myself blindsided and unprepared. Maybe some warning labels, like road signs, but for my life, would come in handy. I’ve even thought of what some of those signs might say. See if you think any of these would be helpful.

Danger – failure to forgive may damage and/or cause the death of your relationships.

Beware – hatred is hazardous to your heart.

Look out for liars – they will lead you away from where you intended to go.

Proceed with extreme care – entering gossip and slander zone – much damage done here.

Caution – selfishness and greed may be harmful to your health.

Enter at your own risk – bullying practiced and protected here.

Cannot be held responsible for any outcomes occurring apart from prayer.

Danger – casting of stones may take place at any time without warning!

Travel advisory – (for the road of life) potholes and pitfalls may be more numerous than expected on this road and may be deeper than they appear to be, therefore more dangerous and capable of causing more damage than would otherwise be anticipated.

All of the above could be helpful signage along life’s highway. Too bad we don’t actually have those warnings and directions along our way. Oh, but we do, dear readers! We have all kinds of instruction, guidance, directions for how to proceed, including warnings, – everything we need to walk wisely in this world is available to you and to me. It is right there in God’s Word – the Bible. All we have to do is to open up the Book!

Within this Book, there is a book called Proverbs. This book is full of warnings and wisdom from beginning to end. Any of the instructions from Proverbs would make a good road sign. Proverbs gives us those directions and warnings we need in order to find our way through this life. I will share the content of a few of these road signs with you here, dear readers. (but seriously, the entire book of Proverbs is one giant warning label for life and road sign for this journey of ours)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:23-27)

“My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life,” (Proverbs 6:20-23)

Isn’t that what we are all seeking – the way to life? And now we learn that these words, these road signs from God, are the light that we need in order to find our way. Psalm 119:105 proclaims,

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”

Just what I want from a warning label or road sign, illumination so that I might see the way ahead more clearly. I need warning labels and road signs in my life to keep me safe precisely because –

“There is a way that seems right to a man (or to me) but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

I don’t know the beginning from the end like God does, so I need the warning labels that come with life, the warnings and directions that God gives to me in His Word. There is a warning in John 16:33 that is a particularly good road sign because it provides a head’s up for what’s coming (as any good road sign should do) and at the same time, it provides hope too. This hope comes in the form of a spoiler alert, as the sign tells me what’s coming and then tells me how it ends. This actually turns out to be a great source of comfort and encouragement as I continue down the road and don’t turn back. This is what the road sign says,

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

a head’s up followed by hope, just what is needed – indeed, God’s Word contains all the warnings, the wisdom, the hope, the encouragement and the guidance I need to stay on course. That’s why I think my favorite life warning label and road sign is this,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (or “He will direct your paths.”) (Proverbs 3:5-6)

That sign contains the warning – lean not to my understanding, the direction – trust God and in all things acknowledge Him, and the hope – God, Himself will lead me, direct my path and make it straight.

a head’s up, direction and hope – such are the warning labels and the road signs God provides for me and for you in His Word – hopefully I will take the time to read them and heed them!

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (Psalm 32:8)

“Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. the oppression Olympics #186

that’s what Douglas Murray calls what our current culture is experiencing – “the oppression Olympics.” Murray stated in a recent interview, “the answer to resentment is not more resentment. The answer to resentment is gratitude and hope.” Murray went on to say that the game of digging up resentments is “endless and unmendable” and he suggests that we might be wise to opt out of the game of “oppression Olympics” before all bridges are burned and all human connections destroyed. Murray refers to an emerging segment of society as the “professionally offended” and suggests that it has now become a full time job for many individuals.

Murray asserts that being offended comes from a place of privilege and position and that gratitude rather than angry outrage would be a more productive response. Sounds kind of like Jesus’s instruction to “turn the other cheek” to me, which is all the more interesting because Murray is a self-described atheist. Nevertheless, he recognizes the destruction the perpetually offended cause in the fabric of our day to day interactions. They cause or carry out a continual tearing of this fabric that binds us all together, with no mending or restoring of the cloth that they are shredding in sight.

The professionally offended among us are always on the lookout for the next “offensive” thing, whatever that might be. Didn’t we used to refer to people like this as “having a chip on their shoulder”? That’s really old school, but it seems people haven’t changed, we’ve just given this attitude a new name and the people who possess said attitude more power. Why do we now acquiesce to what previously was recognized as intolerant bullying? (ie. I want things my way and you will agree with me)

Micro aggressions abound in the world of the perpetually offended and they drag the rest of us into that world with them. (misery does love company, as the saying goes) To be constantly vigilant in one’s search for slights, insults, politically incorrect current discourse or politically incorrect discourse from the past (books, movies, historical documents, posts on social media from one’s past) must be exhausting. What a way to go through life – angry and offended, finding fault with everything and everyone. There must be a better way to walk in this world. Proverbs 19:11 has something to say about this subject,

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

Interesting isn’t it? Instead of looking for offenses, we should be overlooking them, according to these words from Proverbs. Maybe if we did this, we would be less tired, less angry? We would be happier and healthier perhaps? 1 Corinthians 13:5 describes a better way for me to walk through my days, one that would benefit others but paradoxically would benefit me as well. Actually, Paul starts this section of his letter to the Corinthians with these words, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” Who wouldn’t want to know what that is? Paul was talking about the most excellent way to live and he was describing love, which, as you may remember from a recent post, (C.C. love is not a noun #183) is an action packed verb much more than it is a feeling. So Paul says,

“It (love) does not dishonor other people. It does not look out for its own interests. It does not easily become angry. It does not keep track of other people’s wrongs.” (NIRV)

Four very important truths that, if I put into practice, would change my life for the better, I am sure. Don’t hurt other people. I like the NLT translation for the second description of love which says, “It (love) does not demand its own way.” Then it goes on to say, “it is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” The NLV translation gives me the same four truths in these words,

“Love does not do the wrong thing. Love never thinks of itself. Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)

The ERV says, “Love does not remember wrongs done against it.” and the EHV translation says, “It does not keep a record of wrongs.”

Love, put into practice as an action verb, could totally change our current culture! Love has the power to do that – not love the feeling, but love the verb of many actions. Love could set us free from this competition we currently have going to see who is the most offended, the most outraged, the most oppressed among us. We would no longer need to spend our days looking for and keeping an up to date record of offenses and oppressions. This would free us up to practice more productive pursuits.

Honor other people, don’t hurt them. (in person or on social media) Look out for the interests of others rather than demanding my own way. Be slow to anger. Overlook wrongs and hurts, don’t keep track of them. Instead of recording and remembering wrongs, what if I forgave and forgot? I might not win the oppression Olympics because I wouldn’t have my list of grievances, my record of wrongs, carried around with me as my proof that I am more offended and oppressed than others, but I sure would travel lighter through this world.

So what if I never win the oppression Olympics, Douglas Murray referred to in his interview? I am actually running a much different race. And I confess – I don’t want to be weighed down in this race by having to keep and carry with me a record of wrongs. Love says I don’t have to do that anymore. In fact love keeps no record of wrongs. And you know who else keeps no record of wrongs, dear readers? God Himself! How do I know this? Well for one thing,

“God is love.” (1 John 4:8) And we just learned that love keeps no record of wrongs. I am comforted and encouraged by these words from Psalm 130 which say,

“If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (Psalm 130:3-6)

Yes, forgiveness wipes out that record of wrongs that I have been collecting, which has become such a heavy burden for me to be carrying around on a daily basis. God doesn’t keep my record before Him. I don’t need to be keeping records of wrongs for others before me. God’s love sets me free to run the race He has marked out for me, not the race of “oppression Olympics.” I’m so thankful that God –

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:10-14)

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. not an ordinary day #185

This day is still pretty new, but already I know that it is not an ordinary day. (if there is such a thing, as I discussed in yesterday’s post) Spring is in full swing here and the various flowering trees are full of lovely, delicate color everywhere one looks. It is as if earth is decorating herself for some upcoming grand occasion. I can see and feel things springing to life all around me. (guess that’s where Spring gets her name?) But I could not have predicted the sight that greeted my eyes this morning because it was not ordinary nor customary nor usual in any way. (although the weather forecasters did predict just exactly this and I have to confess – I was not happy about the possibility of dealing with snow this late in April)

I could hardly believe my eyes as I drove to work in the early morning hush. Spring dressed up in Winter’s clothes today. She borrowed Winter’s wardrobe, putting on Winter’s soft, pure white coat over her already vibrantly colored clothes of flower petals new and tender. Today the snow did not cover earth’s barrenness but earth’s beauty, and earth’s beauty shone through the snow – earth’s springtime beauty as she adorns herself with color after her long sleep. The result of this wardrobe sharing by Spring and Winter – defying adequate description, is the creation of an enchanted landscape everywhere I look. There is too much beauty surrounding me this morning for me to take it all in, no matter how long I look.

What a way to start the day! As if an ordinary sunrise would not have been sufficient. (although there is nothing ordinary about any sunrise that I have ever seen) But this morning’s manna from heaven was certainly spectacular. This gift is food for my soul, to prepare me for and sustain me through whatever this day will bring, Beauty in the unexpected. Snowfall in late April definitely qualifies as the unexpected. This morning miracle amid the mundane prompts me to praise the Sender of the snow, the Giver of every good gift, the Creator of all the universe, the Orchestrator of my ordinary days, which turn out to be not so ordinary after all. Just look how this one has begun! I am reminded that –

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Today, I am witness once again to the wonders of the work of His hands – today, along with all creation I –

“Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him. . . . Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98:1-9)

“All the earth bows down to You; they sing praise to You, they sing praise to Your name.” (Psalm 66:4)

so, on this not so ordinary day –

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6)

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. an ordinary day #184

Is there such a thing as an ordinary day? Or is each day a gift, extraordinary in its own right? Do these extraordinary days come wrapped in the cloak of the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane and so escape my notice? Psalm 118:24 proclaims,

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” King David writes these words in Psalm 139:16,

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be”

So maybe there’s no such thing as an ordinary day. If each day is already numbered and known to God shouldn’t I be making the most of each and every one of them? Ephesians 5:15-16 gives me this instruction regarding how to spend my days,

“Be very careful, then, how you (I) live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

It certainly does seem that these days are evil. I can feel surrounded by darkness if I don’t look for the light and let it into my life – the darkness will engulf me and I will lose my way. 1 John 1:5-7 tells me,

“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

When darkness surrounds me, I can’t find my way out of it. I need something or someone to show me the way – the way out of my darkness, the way out of my pain, the way out of despair. Jesus showed us the way (actually He said He was the way) saying in John 8:12,

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ ”

Even though these are dark days, John 1:5 reminds me that darkness does not win out over light.

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

That’s good to know because some days it seems like the darkness is winning. It has been a painfully dark few days here in my city due to a shooting which took the lives of unsuspecting people, leaving gaping holes in the lives of those that knew and loved them. For them, for all of us, it was an ordinary day at work until it wasn’t anymore. But truly, there are no ordinary days. Jesus says in Matthew 6:34,

” . . . Each day has enough trouble of its own.” but He prefaces that statement with “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

How true! I never know what a day will bring. My day begins with a cold, gray drizzle, but ends with a warm, gloriously colored sunset. (other days can be the exact opposite – easier beginning, harder ending) Some days seem less eventful than others, perhaps not marked by any milestones or momentous occasions needing to be noted and duly celebrated. It is these seemingly more ordinary days, filled with the myriad, mundane interactions that make up our lives, that are so full of promise, possibility and potential. I don’t want to waste a one of them because as I am so often reminded these days, I don’t know which one will be my last. So each day becomes precious and special in its own right. There are no ordinary days. My Heavenly Father has numbered them all, each one of them, before they even came to be!

A dear friend just lost her granddaughter in a tragedy. As I grieve with her and for her and for her family, I can’t help but be reminded once again, that each day is a gift and each life is precious to the One who created all life. (not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from His notice – Matthew 10:29) I want to be thankful for that gift and to make the most of it. I want to make the most of each day I am given. William Penn must have felt that way too, because he said these words which have always resonated with me,

“I expect to pass through life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow-being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

I walk wide awake through life, with a heart full of holes from each and every loss, but a heart still beating nonetheless, until such time as my number of days has been fulfilled. That number of days is made up of ordinary days, which fully lived will add up to an extraordinary life. That’s the secret, isn’t it? This gift of life we have been given is extraordinary. But we live out this gift one day at a time, in the context of oh so ordinary days. And only in retrospect do we come to see that our days weren’t so ordinary after all. Yet I have taken so many of my days for granted by failing to be thankful, by failing to see the beauty, the uniqueness and the opportunities that each new day brings to me moment by moment.

I don”t get to choose the number of my days, but I do get to choose how I will live each one of them. Joshua challenged the Israelites to choose how they would spend their days, or more accurately to choose whom they would spend their days serving.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Choose this day, every day is a day of decision. I read about “today” in Hebrews 3:12-15,

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the Living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. . . . Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

As I write this post, I confess – today seems to be an ordinary day for me. And yet it is a day of importance and of decision, it is a day of important decisions as is every day I receive as a gift from God. I have just been given two important decisions to make – choosing this day whom I will serve and choosing not to harden my heart to my Heavenly Father’s voice as He speaks through His Holy Spirit. Yes, every day is a day of decisions that will have an eternal impact upon my life and the lives of those around me. That does not sound like an ordinary day to me. Or maybe that’s the irony. In the midst of an ordinary day, the extraordinary takes place. In the midst of the mundane, miracles arise. Everyday miracles are all around me. I just have to open my eyes (and my heart) to behold them.

Today is a day to mourn. Today is a day to rejoice. Today is a day for wailing. Today is a day for singing. Today is a day to decide and to declare who I will serve and what I will live for. Today is an ordinary day. Today is an extraordinary day. Today is a day for mustard seeds of faith to be planted. Today is a day for miracles amid the mundane to be harvested.

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us (I will) rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. not a block but a bridge #183

Lord make me a bridge, let others walk on me – may I never be a block, though You gave me liberty.

free from the law, I’m a servant of grace – but a block prevents others from seeing Your face.

a bridge lays down, making a way for all – a block causes others to stumble and to fall.

may I never be a stumbling block by doing whatever I can – while my brother needs a bridge to walk according to Your plan.

In You, Lord, I have freedom to do so many things – help me choose to be a bridge, though I desire wings.

may I help my brothers more by laying down my liberty in this life – than by standing as a stumbling block, which can only lead to strife.

In my liberty let me choose what helps my brother not to loose – his faith, his way, nor cause him doubt – that’s not what liberty’s about.

this liberty Lord, You’ve given me, not just for me alone – may I use it only if it strengthens my brother on his long journey home.

so a stumbling block upon no man’s path, may I ever be – let me be the bridge lying down in the gap, making clear the way to Thee.

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (Romans 14:13)

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. is a puzzlement #182

Puzzling – verb or adjective? Well, normally an adjective but I now use it as a verb ever since I recently completed a partially finished puzzle left by my older daughter. I refer to the activity of working on a puzzle as puzzling, just as working on a quilt is called quilting. Makes sense, doesn’t it? An added bonus is the pun that the act of puzzling, or of putting a puzzle together is in and of itself a puzzling endeavor. So it is both the verb and the adjective simultaneously.

Maybe because I was enthused by my recent success in finishing the aforementioned puzzle, I have started a new puzzle all on my own. It is proving to be a slow, frustrating process at present. Trying to find connections for all these small, similar, yet subtly different pieces of the puzzle is a painfully tedious task which hasn’t appeared to yield much progress to date. So far, there is no pretty picture emerging. I see just a bunch of disconnected puzzle pieces covering the table, strewn randomly, even chaotically about and I wonder how anything like a coherent image could ever come from so many disconnected pieces. Then I remember – they are all pieces of the same puzzle. They were made to connect with each other. That is their purpose.

I confess – I can’t help but identify with these puzzle pieces. Like each of them, I know there is a place where I fit in, a place that is a perfect fit for me. But trying to find that place is no small feat. I want to find where I fit into this puzzle of life that is God’s big picture puzzle. (God sees the big picture – I can’t, I don’t have His vantage point – you know, from all eternity, in the beginning God created – that kind of vantage point) I know each piece has a part to play. Which means I can know that I have a part to play in completing the bigger picture that God is putting together. In order to find my place, I have to find other pieces to connect to, pieces which connect with me so that together we form the larger picture God is creating. So my search for where I fit in becomes a search for connection because in connection I will find my place. Apart from connection, in isolation, I won’t ever find my place or my purpose. Puzzle pieces don’t make sense by themselves. Neither do people. They are, as we are, parts of a larger whole. Only when completely connected on all sides do we, like the puzzle pieces, fulfill our purpose of allowing the larger picture to be revealed and finished for all to see.

As I puzzle over my unfinished puzzle, I also puzzle over life, which seems to consist of myriad pieces all waiting for me to connect them and in so doing discover the beautiful picture that is revealed when all the pieces find their proper place. If only life could be solved like a puzzle. But that would require being able to connect the dots, or in this case, the puzzle pieces. And as I know from my experience as a puzzler, that is often difficult to do. Sometimes it is a seemingly impossible task – this finding of connections between random pieces and random people. And yet when the connections are discovered and put into place, something wonderful takes place and a part of the bigger picture emerges. It is an excruciating if not an exciting process, this puzzling.

Still, I agree with the king in one of my all time favorite musicals, “The King and I”, that life often “is a puzzlement.” I can totally understand how the King felt when he sang these words,

“There are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know – very often find confusion, in conclusion, I concluded long ago . . . In my head are many facts of which I wish I was more certain, I was sure – Is a puzzlement. And it puzzle me to learn That tho’ a man may be in doubt of what he know – Very quickly he will fight – He’ll fight to prove that what he does not know is so. . . . Oh, sometimes I think that people going mad. Ah, sometimes I think that people not so bad . . . but is a puzzlement.”

Those words express so much, don’t they? And they raise a puzzling life question, namely how can we know anything for sure? And how can we be sure of what we know? What is the truth and how do we find it? In 2 Timothy 1:9-12 Paul writes these words during a difficult time for him and for the people living in the world at that time,

“This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”

Imagine that. In this very puzzling world, unlike the King of Siam, who wasn’t sure about anything, Paul was sure about something. And the thing Paul was certain about was not an inconsequential thing either, such as being sure what his favorite food was or sure of directions to the next town. No Paul was sure of what he hoped for and certain of what he did not see. (Hebrews 11:1) Paul had faith. And his faith was in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul believed that Jesus was able to “guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” What had Paul entrusted to Jesus? His life. Paul had given Jesus his life and Paul was convinced that Jesus would guard it until “that day”, which was the day of Jesus’s return.

Paul was in prison but he trusted that his story was still being written and that his place in the puzzle God was putting together was being lived out day by day as he looked to God to guide him. Paul knew God wasn’t finished with him or with the puzzle. He trusted God to put the puzzle together correctly and to put him in his proper, pre-appointed place in the puzzle when the time was right. Paul knew God was putting something together that was bigger than just himself. It’s like Peter said in 1 Peter 2:4-5,

“As you come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

One stone does not a house make. It takes many stones in the hands of a builder to create a building. It takes many puzzle pieces in the hands of a puzzler to complete a finished puzzle. The stones have to trust the builder to put them where they belong. The puzzle pieces have to trust the puzzler to put them in the space created just for them. When I am puzzling over where I fit in, trying desperately to find that space made just for me, I can trust my Heavenly Father because He alone knows what the finished picture will be. I trust Him to lead me and to put me right where He wants me to be. I can trust God because He is the perfect puzzler. His puzzling always results in perfection. In fact I read in Romans 8:28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

God is good. God works for the good in the lives of those who love Him. Of this truth, Paul was certain even while he lived in an uncertain world. You and I too, dear readers, live in a glaringly uncertain world at the moment. Yet we too, can say with Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.”

My Heavenly Father created all life, He gave me life, He sustains my life, He fills my life with His Presence, – He is the One who guards my life and leads me to the place in His puzzle that He has been preparing for me all along. He is preparing a place for you, too, dear readers. Even though life today is chaotic, confusing and uncertain, in the hands of the Master Puzzler it will all come out right.

As I experience all the events of this present time in history, I shake my head and say along with the King of Siam, “is a puzzlement.”

then I fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, and I say, I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able, to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day. And I say along with Job,

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

life – is a puzzlement – but I know and I trust the Maker and the Master of this puzzle that is life . . .

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. love is not a noun #181

Like faith, (in my previous post) love is an action verb. Love is celebrated and promoted as a feeling, but love’s proof is in its behavior, in its actions. We could even say (paraphrasing James) love without deeds is dead. Love without loving actions isn’t love at all. Jesus described love to His disciples in this way, saying,

“If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching.” and “Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me.” (John 14:23 & 21)

Love is not a noun but what exactly is it? 1 John 4:10 explains it this way,

“This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Sending His Son is definitely an action, a really big one. So big all of human history is divided into before Jesus came and after Jesus came to earth. Jesus came here and showed us God’s love for us by His actions such as healing the sick, feeding the hungry, washing the disciples feet and His ultimate act of love, hanging on a cross, paying the price of our sin so we could be reconciled to a Holy God. John 15:13 confirms this as the greatest act of love saying,

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He laid down His life for you and for me.

“The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.” (John 10:17-18)

So love is the sending a Savior, the sacrificing of an only Son, the laying down of one’s life for another person or for many people. 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells me some important actions that love is always busy doing.

“It (love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering – love is a full time job for sure. I like how the Revised Standard translation expresses 1 Corinthians 13:7 in these words,

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Bearing, believing, hoping, enduring – love is definitely not a noun! Love is a word packed full of action! The Modern language translation of this same verse is even more descriptive of how love behaves saying,

“It (love) bears everything in silence, has unquenchable faith, hopes under all circumstances, endures without limit.”

Love, the feeling, would not be able to accomplish all the bearing, believing, hoping and enduring that love, the action verb, is called upon to do in order to accomplish love’s work in this world. Feelings are fleeting, changeable, unreliable companions at best, who can lead us easily away from where we were planning to go and away from the things love, as defined by its actions, is dictating that we do.

Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God first and foremost and to love others as ourselves. These were calls to action not calls for us to feel a certain way. Knowing this makes understanding Jesus’s words in Luke 6:27-31 easier.

“But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

When Jesus told them to love their enemies, He also told them how to do it. Do good to them, bless them, pray for them, turn the other cheek, give to others and treat them well. Jesus was talking about our actions towards our enemies, not our feelings towards them. Here again, we see love identified by its actions. There are so many things that love does. But there is one thing love does not do. Romans 13:10 tells us,

“Love does no harm to its neighbor.”

That says it all, doesn’t it? This simple but profound truth would work wonders in our lives if we put it into practice. Don’t harm other people – with words or deeds because that’s not love. Love builds bridges not barriers. Love reaches out, seeking connection not division. The isolation imposed by COVID restrictions has made it easier for us to become divided from those around us, from those we used to share our days with, our lives with, until we couldn’t anymore. Hopefully, we will let love tear down the walls isolation has built and put pathways in their place – pathways that will connect us once again to each other in an ever expanding network of community. Love can’t be lived out in isolation. Other people are needed in order to put love into practice. There is something else that Romans 13:10 tells us, the second part of that verse reads,

“Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

The Living Bible says, “Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements. It is the only law you need.”

Could it be if we obeyed God’s law of love, (doing no harm) we would also be obeying all the other laws? This would seem to be the case. Love is and does many things – but these words from Romans 13:10 show me clearly how I can identify true love –

“Love does no harm . . .”

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. faith is an action verb #180

Some might say that faith is a feeling but I think faith is a verb, an action verb. Faith is demonstrated by our actions. I show my faith by my actions. Hebrews 11:1-3 gives a definition of faith saying,

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

I was reminded of that “certain of what I do not see” aspect of faith as I walked yesterday under a gray cloudy sky. As I looked up, I noticed a small break in the clouds revealing a clear, bright blue patch of sky. It was only a tiny opening in the clouds but it bore witness to the fact that somewhere above the clouds, the sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue. The fact that I couldn’t see it, didn’t mean it didn’t exist. It was another “tree falling in the forest” moment. If I don’t see the sun rise because it’s raining or cloudy, does that mean the sun didn’t come up today? Or do I trust that the sun rose on schedule even though all I see before me is pouring rain?

Abraham was a man who showed his faith by his actions. By trusting and obeying God, Abraham demonstrated his faith. We read what happened in Genesis 12:1-4,

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’ . . . So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.”

No map, no itinerary, no reservations made – just leave your, well your everything and go to, well it’s an unknown to you but not to Me – so I will show you the way – is essentially what God said to Abraham. (who at that time was called Abram) And Abraham responded with trust, obedience and faith. He packed up and followed faithfully where God led him. Abraham was truly “walking by faith and not by sight” because he didn’t know his destination. Only God did. And Abraham trusted God. He followed in faith. We see this exchange between God and Abraham in Genesis 15:5-7,

“He (God) took him (Abraham) outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, ‘I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.’ ”

This promise of God to Abraham was pretty incredible considering that at the time Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were childless. Sarah was barren and Abraham who had been seventy-five years old when he started on this journey, wasn’t getting any younger. To be asked to believe that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars when he didn’t have even one child at the time, would have stretched anyone’s faith. And yet we read, “Abram believed the Lord.” He had faith and he showed that faith by continuing to follow and obey God.

As it turns out, this wasn’t Abraham’s most difficult test of faith, incredible as that promise must have seemed to a childless couple. Later, Abraham and Sarah would miraculously conceive and Sarah would give birth to a son, Issac. But Abraham’s faith would be tested again even more severely than before.

“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, . . . ‘Take your son, your only son, Issac, whom you love, and to to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’ ” (Genesis 22:1-2)

So Abraham took Issac and traveled up the mountain as God had instructed him to do. He built an altar, arranged the wood, bound Issac, laid him on the altar and took a knife to slay his son. It was at this moment things changed,

“But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, . . . ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.’ ” (Genesis 22:11-12)

Abraham had responded in obedience and faith once again and had passed the test. We see what the results of his act of faith will be as we read these words in Genesis 22:16-18,

“”I swear by Myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.”

To think that you and I are blessed and all nations are blessed because Abraham in faith, obeyed God! Could it be that my obedience and faith matter to God also? Could God use your actions or my actions of faith to bring blessings to other people? Years later, people still remembered Abraham’s actions at that altar on the mountain. James writes about Abraham’s act of sacrifice in his letter to the twelve tribes saying,

“Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isacc on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” (James 2:21-23)

It would seem that faith is a necessary prerequisite for obedience. Faith enables me, makes me bold enough to obey God. And my obedience being the result of my faith, is the evidence of my faith and completes my faith, as James said in his letter. James sums this relationship up with these words,

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds (action) is dead.” (James 2:26)

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Our faith is revealed in our actions. Our faith comes to life in our actions. Our faith is lived out in our actions. I guess that’s why James says,

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25, italics mine)

faith really is an action verb!

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22, Revised Standard translation)

sincerely, Grace Day

C.C. memory lane #179

I slow down involuntarily like I’ve done so many times before. But this is no longer my destination. My journey is not over. This is no longer home. I am not headed here, I just have to pass by on my way to somewhere else. But today as I drive down this once familiar street, much changed and yet much the same, it hits me. Though memory lane is usually a euphemistic term, for me, this street is more than a metaphorical memory lane. This street is literally a lane full of memories for me.

First I pass my old Jr. High School, which is now an empty lot as the building has been bulldozed long ago. Still standing, though in the process of falling down, is the old gym which sat next to the now missing school building. Still standing strong are a couple of trees which graced the building’s entrance and provided diversion for me as I sat in my second floor English class looking out the window. In the next block, I pass my grandparent’s house, now occupied by strangers. So many of our family gatherings took place here. I remember all the Thanksgivilngs and the Fourth of July backyard picnics complete with badminton. I had a certain tree in the backyard I liked to climb which gave me a special place all my own.

As I continue down the street, in the next block I pass my elementary school. It is bigger now, some new additions have been added onto the original building. Still, some of the field remains where the track was and a practice field for football. Now it is inevitable. If I continue down this road, this memory lane, in the next block I will come to a curve in the road and I will be home. Well, in another not so long ago time, I would have been home. But not now. The old brick barn is still standing right where it has stood for longer than I know and so is the house behind it. But they are no longer home because mom is no longer there.

The next house I pass, which sits next to this one, separated only by a side street, houses as many of my memories as the house by the barn. You see, I grew up in this small house with the big yard – a yard full of clover and croquette and black walnuts and lots of fallen leaves in the fall. The house with the barn was where my other grandmother lived during my childhood years. We eventually moved there and that house became home. Home is where your family lives.

My trip down memory lane is not over yet. As I continue down the street a couple more blocks, I arrive at my church. Well, it was my church my entire childhood and until I grew up and moved away, it was the only church I had ever known. Full of memories both mundane and profound, from Sunday evening youth choir practice to communion on a Sunday morning, this was the place of greatest impact on my life. So much more than Sunday morning memories, the life lessons I learned from God’s word are teaching me still. I remember my Sunday School teachers and feel fresh gratitude for each and every one of them as I drive by this landmark on my memory lane.

Down the road from my church is my high school. This is the last landmark on my trip down memory lane. Is it coincidence that the two places I spent the most time outside of home, school and church, are literally next to each other on the same street? I seldom drive down memory lane anymore, both literally and figuratively. Actually, the former leads to the latter. When I do have occasion to return to my hometown, my literal drive down my old street propels me on that accompanying journey of the mind, revisiting memories stored away, forgotten until called forth by a journey such as today’s.

At this point I recall Thomas Wolfe’s poignant words, “you can’t go home again.” Maybe that’s why even though I slow down as I drive past, I don’t stop. It is not my home anymore. Mom’s not there. I can’t go in. I can’t go back. I guess that’s why they call it a “trip down memory lane” – because it is a trip but not a destination. I have to keep on moving. No stopping on Memory Lane. Reality road is where I live now. In the present. In the here and now of today.

Funny to think that someday my present Reality Road will turn into my Memory Lane. For now, I hang onto the steering wheel, glancing at these landmarks as I pass by, not daring to linger long though the memories are good ones – but the loss of those I have loved too much to let fully in to the moment. Trips down memory lane are best when brief. So I drive on, reminded of what was by the landmarks that still stand, bearing witness to what was, giving my memories the substance of the reality from which they arose.

Still, it never feels right to round the curve and keep on going. That used to be the end point, my destination. That used to be home. I confess – It never feels right to drive on by. As I do, I feel directionless. What is my destination now? These words from John 14:1-3 answer that question in this way when Jesus said,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there 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.”

This assurance of a destination, a home, contains all the comfort, the hope, the peace of mind and the promise of joy that I need. I have a secure, eternal destination being prepared for me. No matter how many hard places my Reality Road takes me, I will arrive at my desired destination Jesus is preparing for me. I will arrive at home. I won’t have to drive on by.

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

sincerely, Grace Day