Last Friday night, my husband and I watched fireworks in honor of Independence Day. They were spectacular– bright flashes of light, followed by loud, thunderous booms–red, green, blue, purple, orange, gold, and white. Some sizzled and screamed as they threw their light across the darkened backdrop of the night. Others were almost silent; just a “whizz” and a “poof.” Some were so bright, they lit up the whole sky, showing clouds and smoke trails.
Fireworks are exciting and flashy. But I wouldn’t want to live in a world of continual fireworks. While their light is bright and exciting, it is not steady, and it is quickly swallowed up again by night’s darkness. We don’t even light fireworks during the day, because their light is not brighter or better than the sun.
Sometimes, I try to be a “Christian” fireworks display–I try to be flashy and impressive, or sizzle, scream, and boom. That’s not entirely a bad thing– after all, we are to let out light shine, so that people can see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven (see Matthew 5:14-16). But we should be careful. Jesus never called us to be like fireworks; He spoke of our “light” being more like a lamp or a candle.
Some thoughts to remember:
We are to let our light shine for a purpose greater than display. Our lives should be a reflection of the true Light of the World. Jesus was not flashy and bombastic. He was humble, gentle, and kind. People were not amazed and impressed by Jesus’ appearance. And He didn’t draw attention to many of His miracles– He often healed people “on the road” as He traveled between towns; some of His most spectacular miracles, like walking on water, were done in front of only His closest disciples. Jesus didn’t lead others by clever arguments and flashy displays– He led by example and service.
Lamps and candles are steady sources of light. Our lives should not be momentary flashes of brightness, followed by clouds of smoke and a return to darkness for those around us. A quiet life of integrity may not be flashy, but it can, over a lifetime, inspire others and leave a lasting legacy that shines far longer and brighter than any fireworks display.
Occasionally, God will put us in a place where our light can shine a little brighter or sizzle for a bit– for His Glory. We should not be afraid to sparkle. But we must not let ourselves “burn out.” And when we see others shine in this way, we should not be envious or try to quench the Spirit; however, we must continue to reflect God’s glory, rather than trying to bask in another person’s glow.
Far greater than any fireworks display is the promise of God’s glory, revealed in the fullness of time– an eternal display of pure light, with no darkness to follow!
Our “little light” is not insignificant– it is God’s purpose. It pleases Him to see us glow, not explode!
Lord, help me to shine in ways that point others to You. Help me to reflect Your gentle, faithful, and righteous light, Your Love, and Your Grace as I travel through a dark world. Amen.
This weekend, we will celebrate the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, in America. Much will be made of the freedoms we enjoy here. Many are freedoms we take for granted; others are freedoms that have been twisted or abused by out citizens, residents, and visitors.
I am very grateful for the freedoms of America. As a citizen of the U.S., I enjoy Freedom of Speech and Assembly; Freedom of Religious practice; the Right to Bear Arms; the Right to a Jury Trial with representation; the Right to Vote and participate in the democratic process; the freedom to move freely and do business across state lines, and so much more that I take for granted. But I want to be very careful to keep a proper perspective on civil and national freedoms, and citizenship in the United States. My citizenship here comes with many opportunities and freedoms, but it is not perfect. It is also not eternal– my perfect and eternal citizenship is in Heaven.
The founders of the United States, in their Declaration of Independence, listed three “unalienable” rights– “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” But they were clear about where those rights come from; not from a government, or a king, but from The Creator. Only God can give “unalienable” rights and freedoms. Governments can topple; Kings can be deposed; Laws and Constitutions can be overturned. The rights and freedoms we will celebrate this weekend were written on parchment, not stone.
When I pray, I don’t pray to a government–even one founded on solid principles and good intentions. And even a corrupt government cannot take away my freedom in Christ to call on My Creator. I cherish the freedom I have to attend worship service, and to pray with my husband in public, or meet with other believers to share prayer requests openly. But even if those freedoms were curtailed by a corrupt government, I could still commune with God– there is no prison, or dark corner, or hospital bed, or place of exile where God cannot meet with me, hear my heart, and answer my requests.
And it is THIS freedom that I fear I take for granted most of all– that I can freely and confidently approach the very Throne of the Almighty, Sovereign God, and expect to be heard and even welcomed. I don’t have to apply for permission from a priest or the angels to pray. I don’t have to bribe someone to allow me to speak to God. I don’t have to fear that my very act of prayer will cause God to cut me off from His blessings or His presence. The Ruler of the Universe, who has the authority over not only my life and death, but my eternal existence, wants me to seek Him and talk to Him. The one who has the authority to force my obedience wants me to choose to listen to Him and follow Him.
This incredible Freedom is available to every person, regardless of their nationality. As an American, I have the freedom to speak and write, and otherwise tell about and show others about this much greater Freedom. Am I using my civil freedom to point others to eternal Freedom? Am I using this incredible Freedom to seek God’s wisdom and grace to follow Him?
5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
James 3:5-10 NIV via biblegateway.com (emphasis added)
‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’
Epictetus (Greek philosopher)
Have you ever made a tape of you speaking, and played it back to listen to yourself? Or have you had someone remind you of what you said earlier in the day or week? Have you been astonished to hear what came out of your mouth (or how someone else interpreted your words)? James, the brother of Jesus, had much to say about the dangerous power of an untamed tongue. “Fire”, “poison”, “corrupt”, “restless”, “evil”, and “deadly” are harsh words, but we should heed James’ warning.
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing… Out of the same mouth come worship and complaining… Out of the same mouth come encouragement and gossip… Out of the same mouth come blessings and bitterness… Out of the same mouth come hymns of heaven and threats of hell…
And it’s not just our mouths, anymore. I see (and have seen it in my own feeds) posts on social media that make me wonder if the person posting is aware of what they posted just minutes or hours before–rants and boasts, complaints and smug condemnation sprinkled with Bible verses about Peace and Love, and pictures of puppies. We copy and paste, write and speak “in the moment” out of the emotions and thoughts that we allow to govern us. And while we may forget our momentary outbursts and random sarcastic comments, others do not. God does not ignore them, either. He can and will forgive them, but He isn’t “fooled” by our gracious cover-ups and flowery quote boxes.
When I pray today, I need to “listen” to what I’ve been saying lately. Do I need to deal with hidden anger or resentment? Do I need to confess (both to God and to someone else) about gossip? Do I need to reconsider the way I speak about my relationships and my achievements (and failures!)?
The same mouth that praises God should be speaking life, peace, healing, and hope to those around me. The same mouth that promises to follow Christ, should promise to reach out to those for whom He died. The same mouth that gives thanks for Salvation should be eager to share the Good News.
The tongue is powerful–whether as a weapon or a tool; whether controlled or out of control. God wants to teach us to use it as a tool for good. Not just when we pray, or worship, but every time we use it!
This past weekend, my husband and I participated in “Field Day.” It is an annual Amateur Radio contest, in which operators have 24 hours to make as many unique “contacts” as possible within the U.S. and Canada, using low power and simulating “field” conditions (many operators and clubs literally set up with tents in fields and use only solar or battery power for their radio equipment).
Field Day can be a lot of fun, but it can also be very frustrating. Depending on where and how you set up, the weather conditions, and other random factors, you may end up with very few contacts, and a lot of static! Radio static comes from three main sources– natural electromagnetic atmospheric noise, such as lightning, high winds, and solar pulses; radio frequency interference, when the radio equipment picks up pulses from nearby electrical devices, including TVs, other radios, or even power lines; and thermal noise coming from within the radio device itself.
We chose to set up for Field Day at our radio store, which is located in town, just beneath our apartment. We have several antennas set up on the roof, along with a solar panel and battery, which can power all of our radio equipment. So we met the basic requirements for Field Day, operating the radios on Solar and Solar Battery power, without extra amplifiers and power boosts. We set up two stations, and we were able to make contacts through voice transmission or by Morse Code. But we were not exposed to the weather and discomfort of a tent in the field– we had a refrigerator stocked with food, we had air conditioning and comfy chairs, and we were able to sneak upstairs for a nap in our own bed, if we felt tired.
Atmospheric conditions were not so good this year for Field Day– not in Michigan, at any rate. We had a series of extreme storm cells coming through, with torrential rains, thunder and lighting, and a tornado watch, which spanned the first six hours of the contest. We were lucky not to have a tornado touch down, but other areas were not as lucky…
Staying in town also provided some complications– we are surrounded by power lines, neighbors with electronic equipment, street traffic, including cars with loud stereo systems and radios, and our own electronic and radio devices– cell phones, air conditioners, computers, etc.
Finally, we had an ongoing issue with our two radios. If we were using certain frequencies, the two radios interfered with each other. As I was listening to one radio, my husband would try tuning his radio. Suddenly, the noise of his radio could be heard over the sound of other transmissions.
All of this made for a somewhat frustrating contest, but it reminded me of some important aspects of prayer:
Prayer can be “choked out” by atmospheric conditions. If we are not “tuned in” to God’s presence, the noise of other worries, interests, concerns, and even “good” things can cause static. Life struggles, changes in our routine, or the “high winds” of adversity can seem louder than the faithfulness and compassion of the One who never changes and never leaves us. This is one reason we are to make prayer more than a habit or routine– it is to be a lifestyle and a blessed and constant pursuit– regardless of our circumstances or feelings at a given moment.
Prayer can also be derailed by “frequency interference.” If we don’t spend time in deep prayer and meditation with God, listening to His Word, or making ourselves accountable to Him, we will be susceptible to interference from other voices, other philosophies, and other “static” influences. Jesus’ prayer life included many times of retreat and separation from the crowds and stress of His ministry; not because He didn’t love others, but because He loved and honored God more.
Finally, prayer can get lost in the “internal” static of our wayward hearts. The heat of anger, bitterness, selfishness, pride, greed, and lust can keep us from meaningful communication and communion with our Father. Often, we struggle with prayer, because we are hanging on to the “static” of our own desires and fears. King David wrote: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, New Living Translation, via bible.com)
Field Day is over for another year. We were somewhat disappointed in our performance, but, in the end, it is just a contest– an opportunity to learn and grow in our hobby. While we enjoy being amateur radio operators, and we feel it is an important and worthwhile hobby, it pales in comparison to growing in our Faith and our pursuit of praying and obeying Jesus Christ!
In the middle of our contest this year, we had a singular opportunity– to leave the contest for a few hours and visit a local church where my niece and two of my nephews were getting baptized. It would mean fewer contacts for the contest, at a time when the atmospheric conditions were the best they had been for several hours. After a dismal evening, we could have chosen to focus on our own pursuits. We didn’t have to witness the baptism to rejoice in it. They would have been no “less” baptized, and they had other family and friends there to see it. And going there didn’t make us “better” or more righteous people. But we chose to shut down our contesting activities, pick up my Mom, and join in the happiness of watching three precious young people publicly declare their choice to follow Jesus. And they were among others who made that decision– others whose joy and radiance also filled the church that day.
Field Day is about listening through the static, reaching out, and making contact with others. Yesterday, I was reminded that there is a much more important “Field Day.”
Do you not say, ‘There are still four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I tell you, raise your eyes and observe the fields, that they are white for harvest.
John 4:35 (NASB, via biblehub.com)
What static is preventing us from making “contact” with those who need to hear the Good News? What static is preventing us from hearing God’s voice? What static is keeping us from seeing the “fields” ready for harvest?
I love flipping through old photo albums. I’m reminded of special times and special people. Sometimes, the memories make me a little sad, as I see familiar faces of those who have passed away, or times of struggle or stress. But most of the time, memories fill my heart with gladness and comfort, strength and resolve.
I’ve been reading through the Psalms lately, and many of them speak of remembering. When God’s people faced struggles, they were told to remember the great stories of the past– the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the conquest of the Promised Land, and many other times when God gave miraculous provision, restoration, and victory. These songs were not just a matter of recapturing the “glory days” of old– they were part of God’s command to remember and pass along God’s deeds and His laws to each new generation.
In the Psalms, we are also encouraged to remember our own past actions– both righteous and rebellious– and God’s faithfulness in spite of our failures. We are to remember God’s correction and discipline; God’s forgiveness, and His Mercy– not just in our own lives, but over many generations and throughout the years.
God instituted festivals, and rites, and Holy Days of remembrance– special times set aside for remembrance and meditation, because it is important to Him that we never lose our focus. We can get so wrapped up in the present (or worrying about the future) that we forget God’s timeless and eternal nature.
Even Jesus, before He went to Calvary, instituted a new rite of remembrance– Communion– in which He called His disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.”
Today, I want to pray a prayer of remembrance. I want to spend time in worship and gratitude for who God IS, but also for who He always HAS BEEN. Thank you for your eternal faithfulness, and for your eternal plan of Salvation. Thank you for the ways you have provided in my life, in the lives of those who came before, and in the lives of generations of faithful saints. May I remember your Great Love and Power as I face uncertainties in the day ahead. May the remembrance of you lead me to trust you completely, follow you boldly, and share you with those I meet.
If is a very short word, but it can cause a lot of trouble in our thoughts and prayer life. It seems harmless enough, but it can be very corrosive.
“If” is a speculative word. We waste precious time and energy on things that didn’t or haven’t happened. What if my circumstances were different? What if I had made other choices in my past? What if something happens to my health? “If” seems to promise a lot of possibilities, but it delivers nothing concrete.
“If” takes our focus away from the present. We spend time wondering “what if..” about the future, or “if only..” about our past. And “if” is passive. It causes us to focus on fear and regret, instead of action and accountability.
“If” only has two letters, but the first one is “I.” I don’t spend much time asking “if” someone else made the right choices (unless I’m judging them, which is also wrong), or if something good or bad will happen to my neighbors.
“If” doesn’t have to hurt our prayer life or take over our thoughts, but it must be kept in check. The Bible has a lot to say about letting the “ifs”, “what ifs”, and “if onlys” take over our thinking:
Matthew 6:25-28 Isaiah 35:4 John 14:27 Jeremiah 17: 7-8 Luke 12:28-30 Psalm 59:16 Philippians 4:6-7
The Bible also uses the word “if” to focus our minds and prayers on action and on God’s promises:
John 8:36 2 Chronicles 15:2 Romans 13:7 Proverbs 23:15 John 13:35 Deuteronomy 4:29 Romans 8:31 Psalm 139:7-8
There is a lot of power in that little word, “If.” If only we learn how to tame it!
Yesterday was Father’s Day. It can be a very difficult day for many people– a day of loss, of regret, of anger, and bitterness. There is an epidemic of people growing up with no fathers, absentee fathers, temporary fathers, or abusive fathers. And it can give us a very distorted view of Our Heavenly Father.
They say that our earthly fathers often become the model of how we see God. If my father was passive, I may see God as apathetic or distant. If my father was demanding, I may see God as just, but not merciful. If my father was moody and unpredictable, I may see God as capricious and unfair. I grew up with a loving, gentle, and wise earthly father. But that doesn’t make me immune to distorted views of God. Dad was honest, a steady worker, a faithful husband, and a humble man of faith. But Dad wasn’t perfect– no father is.
My husband’s father was another terrific Dad. He was a great storyteller, a diligent worker, a man of great faith, wisdom, and gentle humor. And, although he was a great Dad and worthy of respect, he wasn’t perfect, either. Both fathers reflected aspects of God’s love to our families, and I’m so grateful for their legacies.
Our tendency to view God through the lens of our earthly experiences can distort our view of who God is, but it can also distort our view of who WE are to God. David and I each grew up confident of our earthly fathers’ love and care, but that doesn’t mean that God somehow loved us more than my neighbor whose father died when he was just a child, or more that his friend whose father was cold and distant, or our friend whose father was a respected minister. God’s love doesn’t depend on how we view Him, or how we view our family circumstances. God’s love comes from who He is. And He desires a close, eternally loving relationship with each of us– one that transcends human shortcomings and limitations.
My mom was once asked if she had a “favorite” child. And her answer was, “I love them all the same, and I love them all differently.” God’s love for us as a father is the same. His love for each of us is eternal, incomprehensible, and constant. But it is also uniquely demonstrated in the way He guides us, disciplines us, and shows His compassion for us. We may never know the love of our earthly fathers; we may only know their failures, or their memory, or the emptiness where they should have been. But God is the ultimate Good, Good Father– the one we can always look up to; the one who always has our back.
As much as I loved my Dads, and miss their advice and laughter, steady guidance, and examples, they cannot compare to the incredible love and wisdom of Our Father. No matter what legacy our earthly fathers have left us, God’s love is better, wider, deeper, and more powerful.
This has been a week full of distress.. My husband and I got our second COVID vaccine (even though we recovered from the virus earlier this year), and spent a day bedridden with fever, chills, and body aches. But we recovered. I got word that my great-nephew broke his arm. Someone I know had to take her daughter to the emergency room–Again–with a serious infection. Another couple delivered a stillborn son. Yet another delivered a tiny, premature little girl. Another woman is back in the hospital, and another friend is off work with a lingering illness that remains undiagnosed. And that is just a list of health issues!
It has been said that when we are in distress– especially with bedridden illness– we are forced to look up. And this gives us the impetus to call out to God. Not everyone will do so. And some will call out in anger or bitterness. But the Psalmist David used his distress to call out to God for help. In Psalm 18:6 he says: “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”(ESV via bibleref.com) David’s distress was not from illness, but from being hemmed in by King Saul, who had closed in and had David trapped and seemingly helpless–first in a walled city, then twice in the wilderness. (1 Samuel 23) Three times, David’s situation seemed hopeless, and three times, he was rescued from capture and death.
It is tempting to look out at our circumstances, and lose hope. Even when we know that God hears us and loves us, sometimes his answers are not what we expect. David called out to God, yet he had to face his enemy three times before Saul abandoned his hunt (temporarily!) My husband and I recovered quickly from our reaction earlier this week, but we faced the pain and symptoms three times– during the actual illness, and, less severely with each dose of the vaccine. My nephew will have to be in a cast most of the summer. The tiny baby will be in the neonatal ICU for several weeks, if she survives. Her family will be waiting and worrying and praying. Yet, God DID deliver David in a miraculous way; He brought my husband through a severe case of COVID that involved a stay in the hospital and a related case of pneumonia; He gave life to this precious little baby; He is bringing peace to the family that lost their precious little boy. His timing may not be ours; His ways are not our ways. But God’s ears are always open, and His ways are always good, and His wisdom is perfect.
Distress can make us impatient and cause us to doubt Our Father’s care. But when we remember God’s faithfulness in the past– both toward us and those we love–we can find the strength to wait and even praise God in the struggle.
Often throughout scripture, prayer is compared to a pleasant aroma, rising like incense toward Heaven. I love that God interacts with us through all of our senses, even the ones we may not value as much.
When I contracted COVID in late February of this year, I lost my sense of smell, and my sense of taste was dulled. Four months later, it’s only slowly coming back. I have a new appreciation for this wonderful sense. All my life, I have taken it for granted that I could smell– flowers, food, smoke from a fire, perfume, bleach.. When I lost that ability, I worried about things I had never worried about before. Would I be able to smell if I had added too much onion or not enough garlic to our food? Would I miss the warning smell of smoke if there was a fire nearby? Even ridiculous worries– would others smell bad breath or other body odors of which I was completely unaware?
As my sense of smell has begun to return, I am amazed at subtle smells that tickle my nose– exhaust fumes, warm bread, soap, my husband’s cup of coffee in the morning, fresh mowed grass, pine needles, fried chicken. Some of them I had missed for so long, only to have them surprise me with their reappearance. Some of them, I still miss, but I am hopeful that one day, they will suddenly stop me in my tracks and cause excitement and thanksgiving.
God never loses His senses; He never forgets what prayer smells like; He never misses or ignores the aroma of our prayers. But sometimes, we lose the joy of sending prayers toward His Throne. We lose the aroma of prayer. We lose our taste for spending time with God. We may not be able to identify what is missing– perhaps we can still smell other things, like fear,or pride, or decay.
Thankfully, God is eager to restore our senses, including the fresh aroma of prayer rising on the breeze to bring Him pleasure.
As I write this, it is still Sunday evening. This morning, we sang a classic hymn at church– “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” It’s an old hymn, and familiar; we often sing such hymns on auto-pilot and without really thinking of the wonderful words and truths coming out of our throats.
“What can wash away my sin?– Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” “What can make me whole again?–Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” When I come to God in prayer, confessing my sins, it is not my prayer that makes me clean. Nothing I can say or do will give me right standing before God. I am a sinner, and I fall short of God’s glory. I also trespass against His holiness, and even His mercy. I am guilty, and there is no “magic” prayer that will heal me or exonerate me.
Yet I come before a Holy God and make my confession. Not because He doesn’t know that I have sinned. Not because my words will save me. I come because I know that the Blood of Jesus Christ has, and will make me whole and justified. I have no need to hide the truth of my condition, or try to make my own justification or sanctification. Christ has done it all.
Prayers of confession are not for God’s benefit, but for ours. To hide our guilt, or to excuse it, is to despise God’s amazing gift of Grace. When we confess to God, it is not because He wants to humiliate us or cause us additional guilt– though this is often the lie we tell ourselves. God is eager to remove our guilt and to guide us in His righteous ways. But He will not save us against our own will or without our permission. He will not conspire with us to hide our secret sins, or pass the blame on to someone else. To do so would be to submit to OUR will. WE are NOT God, though we sometimes act as though our ways are better than His.
I’m so glad that God is God– that His ways are perfect, and that I can trust Him completely. Even when I fall short, I can trust that God has already paid the price to make things right– something I could never do, and something I find too wonderful to fully comprehend.
Nothing but the blood can save me. And anything other than the blood will fail to set me free. My prayers of confession– no matter how polished or pious or piteous– cannot unlock the mystery of salvation and restoration. But they acknowledge the marvelous reality that it IS FINISHED! God’s Grace is sufficient! Hallelujah!