To Boldly Come…

Opening monologue from Star Trek

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For anyone familiar with the Star Trek series, the phrase, “To boldly go…” conjures up pictures of galactic travel at warp speed, with haunting soprano voices, uniforms in mustard yellow, red, and black, and the voices of actors William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy (or Patrick Stewart, et al.)  It probably does not make anyone think of The Lord’s Prayer, or the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ.  I hope to change that today!

There is a running theme throughout scripture of God asking people– from Abraham to Moses to Mary and Joseph to the Disciples and Apostles and on to all of us– to COME, and to GO.  BOLDLY!  Abraham left all that he knew to follow God’s prompting to the promised land.  Moses was told to Go and confront Pharaoh, Mary and Joseph were to Go– to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and then to Galilee.  The Disciples were to Go into all the world!  We are to continue this Great Commission.

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But Jesus, in His teaching on Prayer, also told His Disciples to Come to the Father with boldness:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us each day our daily bread,
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’  Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me.  The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed.  I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

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As Christians, we often quote the Beatitudes, where Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek..”  We should not be pushy, arrogant, or selfish in our actions or our prayers; but we should be bold, confidant, and eager.  God doesn’t want us to be timid, coy, or “fake” in asking for wisdom, power, and basic needs– He wants to give us good gifts.  He also wants us to trust Him enough to ask forthrightly and boldly.

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So let us pursue the “Enterprise” of prayer by “boldly” going before God’s throne, and then “boldly” going forth in the power of His Holy Spirit.

 

What If?

As I am writing this, people in my country are voting in mid-term elections.  Many of them are voting in fear, confusion, or anger, and asking, “What if my candidate/cause/political party doesn’t ‘win’ today?”  “What if I voted for the ‘wrong’ policies or people?”  “What does the future hold?”

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These are not uncommon or unrealistic questions, but they are questions that waste our time and sap our energy in hypothetical posturing.  The writer of Ecclesiastes says:

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 King James Version (KJV)

11 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good. 

It is not wrong to wonder about the future, but we cannot be sure that our actions will always produce the results we long for– especially when we have little control over other people’s actions and consequences.  The first two verses of this passage warn us not to “put all of our eggs in one basket”.  As free citizens in a democratic republic, we shouldn’t put our trust in any one political party, platform, or politician.  Nor should we live in a social or political “echo chamber”, listening only to the views and ideas with which we feel most comfortable, or least challenged.  However, we should look at the long-term consequences of proposals and the reasons behind them before we promote change just for the sake of it.

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The third verse reminds us that some changes and events are beyond our knowledge or control.  It’s not that our vote “doesn’t make a difference” or that we’re on “the wrong side of history”– it may mean that history has taken a detour surrounding a certain issue.  It may mean that God is allowing for something we have not imagined (as He did in the days of Habakkuk). Get some great “Insight” into the Book of Habakkuk here.

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But there is more wisdom to come in verses 4-6.  Waiting for certainty of outcome, or being distracted by our circumstances or every “wind of change” can lead us to miss the very real opportunities for present action.  God has given us everything we need (see yesterday’s blog) for godly living and godly decision-making.  That doesn’t mean that our decisions will always reflect popular “wisdom”; it doesn’t even mean that our decisions will be the same as all other fellow believers and followers of Christ.  It DOES mean that we can make our decisions without fear.  God knows us– He understands your heart and mind better than anyone; He knows why people who agree on spiritual matters may not agree on politics.  But more than that, God KNOWS the future!  He knows all the things that we merely guess at.  So we should act in the present with the best information we have, and leave the rest to the God who knows best.

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Modern politics relies heavily on conjecture– polls, predictions, pledges, projections, plans, and campaign promises.  But God is still sovereign over all nations, governments, and peoples.  Instead of asking, “What if..” we should be asking of God, “What now?!”   And we need to be ready to listen and obey!  Let’s pray today for the wisdom to listen more, act with confidence, and trust our future to the one who has already seen it!

Everything We Need

2 Peter 1:3-8 New International Version (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you ask most people what they need, you will not hear the items listed in this passage of scripture.  Most people view needs in very personal and concrete terms– food, water, shelter, safety, air…we need these to exist during our life on earth.  God cares about our physical and most basic needs.  But most people have other “needs” that they try to meet with what the Apostle Peter refers to here as “evil desires”.  We “need” to feel loved– but we end up in unhealthy relationships, or fleeting relationships that don’t meet our need.  We “need” to feel secure and worthwhile– but we end up feeling fearful and ashamed.  We “need” to achieve; to find fulfillment and worth in our actions, words, relationships, and legacy–but, too often, our efforts lead us to compromise the very dreams and ambitions we started with, leading us to mediocrity or even disaster.

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Jesus, through His divine power, has given us everything we need–everything!  His death and resurrection provided the way for us to find true forgiveness and new life.  We won’t find it in any of the things we think we “need”– a new job, or a new relationship; a new car or a new cause.

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Over the years, I have returned to this passage many times.  There is a lot to unpack in just a few verses.  One of the things that always “gets” me about this passage is that I want to just leap from Faith to Love without the steps in-between.  The world needs love– I need love– and I want to spread love, reflect love, and be known for loving others.  God is Love, and showed His love through Christ– I believe in God and trust Christ.  Voila!– He has given me everything I need, so I should be loving.  But Peter writes what he knows very well.  Following Jesus, learning from Him, growing to be more like Him–it begins with Faith, but it grows through discipleship.  I “loved” people before I had Faith in Christ.  I may “feel” love for others, but if my thoughts and actions are not being  transformed by His Spirit; or if I continue to act out of habit or selfish impulse, my “love” will be corrupted and compromised by the world.   It will be “my” love and not God’s love working through me.  For that to happen, I need to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance and all the rest.

And adding these virtues requires that I humble myself to admit that I am not “good”, that I don’t already “know” everything…that I “need” to depend on God for any goodness, wisdom, discipline, strength to persevere, etc.

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God is Good– He has already made provision for me to have everything I really need.  He will guide me every step of the way; giving me all that I need when and how I need it most.  I don’t “need” to worry or run myself ragged trying to earn God’s approval or favor.  But I do “need” to trust that God will continue to work in me and through me for His Glory.  And I need to come daily before His throne to listen and learn from Him, and reach out daily to go through the steps of turning Faith into Love in action.

The Birds of the Air

Yesterday, I was working in the Toddler Room at church.  The children had been playing and singing, when suddenly, our attention was caught by something happening outside our window.  Hundreds of birds were gathering in the front lawn and in the parking lot of the church, resting and re-organizing for the next leg of their long migration.  Birds were swooping in, landing, hopping about, lining up, changing places with other birds, circling in low flight, rearranging, and chattering before the entire flock took off and headed south.  The children gathered by the window in fascination for a few minutes, before returning to their play.

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I was reminded of the passage in Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Ironically, yesterday was the first day of “falling back” from daylight savings time to “normal” time– literally trying to add a single hour to our lives by changing our clocks!

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The birds were not worried about clocks, or falling leaves.  They were not nervously searching about for seeds or worms or bread crumbs to eat.  They didn’t compare feathers or try to ostracize birds who were “different” in size or coloring or age.  Each year, the birds fly hundreds of miles, over lakes and fields and cities, to get to their “winter” home.  They repeat the process each spring to get to their “summer” home.  God has created them with a special GPS that not only gets them where they need to go, but helps them find food and resting places along the way– including the lawn and parking lot of our church!  And this is only one of thousands of flocks of birds.  They arrived, rested, regrouped, and left.  They didn’t collide with another incoming flock; they didn’t arrive upset or confused about the repaving that occurred this summer.  They didn’t need reservations or recalculations, credit or debit cards, cell phones with wi-fi hotspots, or pilots’ licenses.  God did not forget about them, abandon them, or set them up for failure.

The birds still have to face the long journey– they must gather food each day; rest each night; they must brave the very real dangers along the way.  Not every bird will reach its destination.  Some will be injured or become food for predators; some will succumb to bad weather or old age.  Some will even be blown off course or become separated from the rest of the flock.

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God doesn’t promise that we will never face danger, or that we will never have to struggle.  What He does promise is that we can trust Him to always be present and that He will provide all that is sufficient for us to follow Him.  There is nothing we can do to add an hour to our life– and nothing we can do to erase, amend, or alter His Love for us!

Do You Know Him?

We offer prayers to God, but sometimes, we lose touch with who He really is.  One way to freshen our prayer life and our spirits is to rehearse the names of God.  There are several throughout the Bible– too many to list them all here, though I will leave some at the end of today’s blog and links to sites that list more.

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The pursuit of prayer isn’t just about the act of praying– it is about knowing God better; getting to know who He is, and who we are in Him.  God is so much bigger than any one name or title, and the more we rehearse and remember His attributes, the more we discover Him to be beyond all that we can think or imagine.

That’s My King–Dr. S. M. Lockridge  In just over four minutes, Dr. Lockridge builds an amazing word picture of Jesus Christ– one that I have turned to often over the years.  If this pocket of a sermon doesn’t give you goosebumps, I don’t know what will.  Here’s the PDF version if you can’t get the video.

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It is also a wonderful idea to keep a running list (or start one) of your personal names for God– in fact, many of the names we use come from names given by others after a personal encounter with God.  “The God Who Sees,” “The God Who Hears.” “God My Provider,” “The God Who Heals,” and many more are scattered throughout the Bible as God revealed Himself in a personal way to various people.  There are also names and titles God has used to introduce Himself– “The God of Abraham,” “Yahweh (I AM),” “King of Kings,” “Almighty,” and many more.

God is spirit– we may feel His presence, but we do not see Him as He really is– not yet!  And when we don’t see Him, we can lose sight of His Glory and Honor and Power.  So let’s take some time today to “see” Him with new eyes– eyes of wonder and awe as we get just a bigger glimpse of Who HE Is!

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I wonder…
Do you know Him?

A 30-Day Prayer Guide for the Names of God (Navigators. org)

Q and A about the Names of God (Bibleinfo.com)

A few of the Names and Titles of God:

Yahweh/ Jehovah
Abba/Father
Adonai
Almighty
Alpha and Omega
Ancient of Days
Author and Finisher of Our Faith
Beginning and the End
Beloved
Bread of Life
Breath of Life/Breath of Heaven
Christ
Comforter
Cornerstone
Counselor
Creator
Deliverer
Divine
Dwelling Place
Elohim
El Shaddai
Eternal
Everlasting Father
Exalted
Example
Father
Fisher of Men
Foundation
Glorified
God
Good
Gracious
Guardian
Help
High Priest
Holy
Hope
I AM THAT I AM
Immanuel
Immortal
Incarnate (Jesus)
Infinite
Intercessor
Invincible
Jesus
Just Judge
Kind
King
Lamb of God (Jesus)
Law-giver
Living Water
Lord of Lords
Majestic
Maker of Heaven and Earth
Merciful
Messiah
Mighty God
Most Holy/Most High
Name Above All Names
Noble
Omnipotent (all-powerful)
Omnipresent (ever present)
Omniscient (all-knowing)
Perfect/Perfector
Prince of Peace
Promised One (Jesus)
Provider
Quick to Hear
Ransom
Redeemer
Refuge
Resurrection (and the Life)
Righteous One
Ruler
Sacrifice
Sanctuary
Savior
Shelter
Shield and Defender
Strong Tower
Teacher
Truth
Unchanging
Victory
Well-Spring
Wise
Worthy
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (The Same)…

Holy Terror

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, brings out the fearsome, garish, gory, scary, and macabre in many people.  Movies, costumes, and stories concentrate on death, mystery, nightmares, ghosts, and terror.

I am not a fan of horror in any of its forms.  I don’t like to be scared, startled, tricked, haunted, or frightened.  I don’t like seeing others being terrorized, tortured, or hurt.

So it is with great interest and some surprise to find that the Bible tells us to fear.  Of course, it also tells us NOT to fear– several times, in fact.  We are told that we need not fear the future (Matthew 6:34), struggles, battles, or long journeys (Joshua 1:9), shame or disgrace (Isaiah 54:4), terror, evil, and the “shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4),  actual death, angels or demons (Romans 8:38), or anyone at all (Psalm 27:1; Psalm 188:6).  But there is one fear the Bible does nothing to dispel.

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There is a Holy terror that comes from the recognition that God is Holy– and we are NOT.  There is a very real, very terrible chasm separating us from an eternally sinless and perfect God.  There is nothing we can do on this side of the chasm to close the gap– no way to escape the eternal. hopeless and horrific state of being separated from all that is good, and noble, and peaceful, and joyous.  In life, we get glimpses of glory–flashes of amazing grace at work in the world around us.  Even though we live in a fallen world, we do not live in a place rejected or abandoned by God.

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This should cause us to have a healthy “fear” of God– a soul-deep awe of His “Other-ness”, His Authority, and His Pre-eminence.  And it should give us a terror of remaining in separation from Him– especially as He offers the very restoration and renewal we can never achieve for ourselves.  And He offers it as a free gift to ANYONE who will receive it!

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Far from trying to “scare someone into Heaven,” sermons and admonitions about Hellfire and eternal damnation are meant as very real warnings with real and eternal consequences.  No horror on earth can compare with an existence devoid of all joy, peace, love, light, help, and hope–and filled with the knowledge of “all that might have been.”  Zombies, vampires, ghouls, and monsters can terrorize in the movies for an hour or two, or in books for a week or more, but what makes people willing to entertain such horrors is the latent hope that we will close the book cover, exit the theater, and wake up from the nightmares presented there.  The idea that Good will eventually triumph; that order, peace, and justice can be restored; that love conquers all, and “something” will survive, re-emerge, and carry on into the future.  All of these hopes are possible because God exists and is eternal.  When we reject God’s authority; His sovereign direction and His call to salvation, we reject all that comes with it.  While we live on His earth, we will still see the glimpses of glory– we can pretend that it is enough for now, or choose to settle for false “hope” of emptiness in death.  But we cannot escape the search for meaning and purpose that drives us to build and plan for a future we have never seen; nor can we know the peace that comes from looking forward and seeing more than darkness, doubt,  and destruction.

Trusting in Chariots

Psalm 20:7 New International Version (NIV)

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

King David wrote this verse..one that I learned at Vacation Bible School as a child.  Taken out of context, it reminds us that the Name of the Lord is powerful and trust-worthy.  It is better to trust in the Lord than to place our trust in even the might of an army.  Military might, political power, wealth, popularity, social influence– all are fickle.  God is Sovereign and will do what He says He will do.

In context, David is not just recounting a principle; he is speaking from the experience of being God’s anointed King.  In the verse just before this, David says:

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.

See full text of Psalm 20 here

David knew God’s saving power– he had experienced protection, blessing, and victory from the hand of his Creator.  He had also known exile, hardship, and danger.

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It is interesting to note that King David did not come up with the image of horses and chariots– God had already spoken to the people of Israel, warning them NOT to put their trust in such things.  David was proclaiming his adherence to God’s command several hundred years before:

Appointing a King

14 When you have come into the land which the Lord your God gives you and possess it and dwell there and then say, “I will set a king over me just like all the nations that are around me,” 15 you must set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. You must select a king over you who is from among your brothers. You may not select a foreigner over you who is not your countryman. 16 What is more, he shall not accumulate horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order that he accumulate horses, for as the Lord has said to you, “You must not go back that way ever again.” 17 He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he acquire for himself excess silver and gold.

18 It must be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write a copy of this law for himself on a scroll before the priests, the Levites. 19 It must be with him, and he must read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and carefully observe all the words of this law and these statutes, and do them, 20 that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers and so that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left, to the end, so that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (ESV)

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David did NOT adhere to all of God’s commands for a king.  He had many wives, and family troubles plagued his house for generations to come.  Tragically, his son Solomon, for all his wisdom in other areas, failed in his kingship because he failed to put his full trust in God.  He accumulated wives, horses, chariots, and wealth, but he lost the opportunity to establish his father’s house and his family’s dynasty by trusting in the very blessings of wealth and wisdom that God had given to him.

God blessed both King David and King Solomon with peace and prosperity.  Neither one followed God absolutely, but David understood something his son never fully grasped.  God’s blessings are abundant; they are rich and glorious.  God showers blessings upon both the just and the unjust.  They are not always a mark of God’s favor– frequently, they become a stumbling block and a substitute for the worship that belongs to God alone.  Solomon began his reign by trusting the God of his father, King David.  But in the end, he put his trust in his wealth and honor, and turned his back on God.

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25 Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots and twelve thousand horses, and he put them in designated cities and with him in Jerusalem. 26 He ruled over all the kings from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. 27 So the king made silver in Jerusalem as abundant as stones and cedar as plentiful as sycamore trees in the lowlands of the Shephelah. 28 The horses of Solomon were imported from Egypt and from all other lands.

2 Chronicles 9:25-28 (ESV)

In fact, he did exactly what God had warned against during the days of Moses– importing horses from Egypt.  Without context, it seems like such an ordinary thing–kings accumulate might and power, and they import the best this world has to offer.  What’s wrong with that?  Solomon’s own father had the answer; the answer was written into the laws of Moses(the very ones Solomon was commanded to keep with him at all times!),  but Solomon turned away and crossed the line between gratitude for God’s blessings to placing his trust and identity in those very blessings.

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Some (people) trust in chariots and some in horses;
Some trust in their jobs or their homes;
Some trust in their bank accounts or their popularity–

Where is my trust today?

Praying in the Present

I don’t know about anyone else reading this, but I need a reminder every so often about living in the present (including keeping my prayer life centered in the present).  It is very tempting sometimes to wallow in the past or dream of the future.  There’s nothing wrong with learning from past mistakes or making future goals, but we are not to waste our time or our energies pursuing what isn’t, while ignoring what is happening around us.

TheLordsPrayer

If we look closely at the Lord’s Prayer, we see how centered it is in the present.  There are a couple of forward-looking phrases (Thy kingdom come…lead us not into temptation…For ever and ever..) but most of the prayer is for the present and foreseeable future.

I need to be reminded, through Christ’s example and through scripture, that God wants me to trust Him for my daily needs and follow one step at a time.  If I find myself spending more time asking God for things far out in my future, or continually bringing up things from my past, it may mean (though not always) that I am not fully trusting in the sufficiency of His Grace for today.

God has already seen my past– and loves me unconditionally.  His Grace will not be rescinded each time I face a reminder of my past; He will not change His mind if someone else carries a grudge against me.

God has also seen my future.  He knows my needs, my concerns, my desires.  He wants me to bring my whole heart to Him in prayer–a heart that is ready to trust His provision and plan, even when I don’t know the details.

Think what would happen if every parent-child conversation involved the following themes:

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  1. “Mom, do you remember the time I tipped over your plants when I was five, and you yelled at me.  I just want to tell you I’m so sorry I did that.  I know you said you’ve forgiven me, but I need to ask you again.”  “Dad, I know you were disappointed when I got into a fight with my brother back when I was eight, but I hope you can see how I’ve learned a lot since then.  Please don’t hold that against me today.”
  2. “Hey, Dad, I really want to drive when I turn 16.  Can I ask you for a purple sports car when I turn 16?  I want to be a good driver, and I just know that you want me to be a good driver.  I think a purple sports car would make me a great driver in another seven years.”  “Mom, will you promise to babysit my kids after I have kids?  I just know my kids will want to have a close relationship with you, so will you just promise to be close to my kids when I grow up and have them?”
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There’s nothing essentially wrong with the actual requests– but when we focus on the past or the future at the expense of the present, we miss learning what God has for us TODAY.  We also risk seeing God only for what He gives and what He has done, and not for Who He Is!

Let’s enjoy time with God today (and every day) as it unfolds.

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Restoration

A widow contacted a local church to come pick up an old rusty car that belonged to her late husband.  He had one request– that the car be kept in the old garage at the church parsonage and that anyone who wanted to could stop by and work on it.  He had purchased it years before with the intention of restoring it to drive around in during his retirement.  But time and ill-health had robbed him of his dream.  His hope was that someone might enjoy working on it, and if no one came to work on the car, perhaps the church could sell it to scrappers and at least get some money for it.  An ad was placed in the bulletin, and another in the local paper.  Hours were set up, when people could stop by to work on the car.

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Soon, there was a great stir– several members of the congregation came forward to protest.  Some were concerned about the safety and liability involved in having the car in the garage where anyone could get to it.  Surely, it would be in the church’s best interest to have the car locked away, so only members of the congregation could get to it.  Others were arguing about how to restore the car properly– what was the original color of the chassis and the interior?  Could they find the exact parts for that make and model?  Who would work on the engine?  The interior?  The frame?  Surely the old man didn’t mean for just anyone to come in and work wherever s/he felt like working…how would the job get done?  Detailed schedules were posted and discussed; re-posted and opposed.

Weeks, and even months went by.  The church was divided; some threatened to leave.  And none of the church members had even visited the old car in the garage– it sat forgotten.  Except…

A young man in town had seen the notice in the newspaper.  He wrote down the original work schedule and followed it, quietly coming every Tuesday and Friday night after work, and patiently working to restore the car.  He cleaned and oiled parts, “tinkered” with others, sanded off rust, fixed hose lines and checked all the panels.  He patched upholstery and polished up the old tires.  He painted the chassis and found matching window wipers to replace the old ones.  He worked on the motor and the exhaust, and even the old AM radio.  He made sure the mirrors and windows were not cracked or chipped.  He even hunted around to find the right hood ornament to replace the one that was lost.  Only the pastor knew of his work, and even he had never joined the man or asked about his progress– he merely opened the garage door every time the young man arrived, and closed it when the young man left.

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After eight months, the division in the church had reached a fevered pitch.  One group demanded that the car be removed to a secure location and that the labor should be divided based on an elaborate chart that focused on how long someone had attended the church, their skill base, what time they were available to work, and whether they were currently an elder or deacon (or had ever served as an elder or deacon).

When the group arrived at the garage, they were shocked to discover that the car was completely restored, polished and glorious in its restoration.  Shocked and angry, they attacked the pastor– How could he have allowed this to happen “behind their backs?”  When the pastor admitted that he was as surprised as they were, their attention turned to the young man.  They hunted him down and demanded an explanation.  How dare he come and work on the church’s car without their knowledge or approval!  Who did he think he was?!

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The young man’s answer left them stunned.  He said, “I read an invitation that said anyone who wished could come and help restore an old car to help out a local church.  I came every week, and no one else ever showed up to help.  No one from your church did any work on this car.  No one ever came to check on it or see if any work had been done.  No one from your church gave me a word of encouragement, no one had a helpful suggestion or even constructive criticism.  No one offered me a word of gratitude.  No one helped hold a lamp or flashlight so I could see the hidden damage as I made repairs.  No one helped when I had to hoist the motor or clean off the grease and grime, or polish the chrome.  The invitation was clear– whosoever will, may come.  I came.  I followed the directions I was given– I came on Tuesdays and Fridays, and I cleaned up each time before I left.  I put a lot of work into this car, and now I’m done.  I hope your church can decide on a good use for it; she’s a beauty, and I think she’ll run really well– I didn’t take her for a spin, but I hope someone will be able to enjoy her for many years to come.”

The crowd from the church still had one question– Why had the young man come in the first place, and why did he keep working on the car all those months?  Did he want the car for himself?

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“No,” the man said; “when I first read the ad in the paper and I saw the word ‘restoration’, I was deeply moved.  Not too many years ago, I was living a very wild and dangerous life.  I felt alone and abandoned and I was filled with anger.  I was restless and destructive.  But one man in town took me under his wing.  He gave me a part-time job, and made me promise to stay in school.  But much more than that, he and his wife invited me over for dinner several times.  They made time out of their busy schedule to come and watch me play basketball after I finally made the team in my senior year.  When I joined the army, they sent letters and care packages.  The old man used to tell me that I reminded him of an old car he bought and kept in his garage.  He said it was an amazing machine that just needed restoration– he said I was an amazing person who just needed some restoration.  He told me that Jesus came to bring restoration to anyone who wanted to come to Him.”

“I finished my time in the army; I came back and started my own business.  I got busy and moved on with life.  I never came back to thank that man for his kindness, and he never asked for anything from me.  I guess I expected to thank him some day, but I found out that he had died.  I went to see his widow.  She was so gracious, asking about my family and wishing me the best, and then she mentioned her husband’s last request.  And when I saw the ad in the paper, I knew this was a way for me to thank the old man, but also to experience what restoration really means.  When I came to God, I was rusty, filthy, and broken.  God has sanded off the rust in my life, mended broken relationships, and given me new life.  It’s an honor to be able to bring restoration, no matter the circumstances.  God has done so much to restore my life, it’s the least I can do to help restore an old car.  I hope that somehow, this car can inspire renewal in someone else’s life the way its owner helped bring restoration to my life.”

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I wish I could say that the young man’s story changed the hearts of the angry deacons and elders.  A few of them were touched; some even convicted of their pride and selfishness.  But most were simply put out.

What have I done with the precious gift of restoration in my life?  God, lead me to someone today who needs to hear, and SEE, the miracle of restoration and Grace.

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