How Great Thou Art!

O Lord My God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made…Then sings my soul…” (emphasis added) When was the last time you spontaneously broke into the kind of wonder and praise that we find in this old familiar hymn? If it has been awhile, let today be the day that you joyously and loudly sing praise to our Awesome and Great God.

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So often, I come to prayer focused on myself– my needs, my unworthiness, my circumstances. But prayer is the act of communicating with the One who is all-sufficient, all-worthy, all-powerful, and all-loving. As we pray, it will often happen that all the cares and concerns melt away in the wonder and insight that we are actually talking to GOD!

But there are times when we miss the great opportunity to fully open ourselves to the Glory and Majesty of Our Father. Yes, we communicate; Yes, He still hears us. But we fail to come away with the full blessing of having spoken WITH God. We speak TO Him; we even speak OF Him. But when we speak WITH God, we are in the presence of such majesty, that we are left beyond words! Our Soul Sings! Our Heart is overflowing! Our mind is overwhelmed with the concept!

Prayer is so much more than what we say; so much more than what we think. God is so much bigger, so much greater, so much MORE than anything we can describe, anything we can imagine! And THIS is who we approach when we pray.

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If you have the opportunity, spend some time in nature today. Look up at the sky– clouds, stars, and the endless canopy of space– and let the Majesty of God fill your senses as you make time for prayer. If you cannot get outdoors, find a picture or film or website to remind you of the grandeur of God’s wonderful creation. And then, sing out, shout out, pray and praise the Maker of the Universe, and the Lover you Your Soul! This same God of the beginning is the God who was, who IS and who is to come! The same miracles He has done in the past, He will do NOW and through all time.

There is NOTHING too big or too difficult for God. There is nothing too small or unimportant for Him to do, either. And what He does, He does with Joy and in Love! He rejoices over every one who comes to salvation. He rejoices over every one who comes to Him empty and tired and discouraged– and He rejoices to give them rest, and hope, and strength for the journey ahead. He offers Grace and Beauty from ashes. He offers Eternal Life and Everlasting Peace!

And if that doesn’t make your soul sing, I don’t know of anything else that can!

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For more information about the hymn– its origins and meaning– check out this site: https://www.godtube.com/popular-hymns/how-great-thou-art/

One Man’s Junk…

The story is told of an old, worthless-looking violin that came up for auction. No one wanted to bid on it. The auctioneer began with a modest call for three dollars. No bids. Two dollars? Nothing. One dollar? Surely someone would spend just a single dollar. The violin was in working order. It had all its strings and a bow. No one was willing to spend one dollar for an old violin?

Suddenly, an old man came forward and took the violin off the table where it lay. He picked up the bow and began to play a famous violin concerto. In the hands of a master musician, the old violin came to life. Its haunting and soaring music brought the entire room to tears. The old master came to the end of the piece, and there was a hushed silence as he lay the bow and violin back on the table and returned to his seat. Clearing his throat, the auctioneer started a new bid– one thousand dollars. Several people placed a bid. Two thousand? Three? What had been worthless in the eyes of so many just minutes ago suddenly had great value.

That’s a nice story, but it rarely happens that way in real life. I run a resale shop– antiques, collectibles, vintage and retro items, and yes, what most would probably call “junk.” People come in and look around– sometimes they find a piece or two that they like. Sometimes, it’s priced at just a dollar or two; sometimes the price is a little higher. Some people think my prices are too high; others find them on the low side. They think they are getting a real bargain, and they are convinced they will be able to resell the item for much more on-line or elsewhere. They may be right. They may be wrong. Most of them are just doing what I’ve already done– find an item that seems to be undervalued, and sell it to someone else who may value it more highly.

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“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” That saying applies to many of the objects in my store. But it should never apply to a person. We tend to place a value on someone else based on many superficial factors. We judge people by the way they look– their clothing or their hair or the expression on their face when we first meet. Sometimes we judge them by their skin color or the way they speak– the words they use or if the have an “accent.” We judge some people to be smarter or more important based on who else pays attention to them or how much money they have (or don’t have). We judge their talents and experience based on hearsay or gossip. And we allow others to place their “value” on us. As though some people deserve more attention, more resources, or more love than others.

God sees through all the tarnish, the guilt, the low esteem, and shame that we carry around. Each one of us is equally precious in God’s eyes. There is no “junk” in God’s economy, when it comes to a human life. No matter how dirty, broken, used, misused, patched up, trampled on, or worthless we may seem to others (or to ourselves) we are priceless and cherished by our Heavenly Father.

Jesus sought out the “junk” people of his time– lepers, widows, children, the blind and lame, the sick and weary, diseased, depressed, and demon-possessed. He touched the untouchables, loved the unlovable, and forgave the unforgiveable. Even when He was condemned to die as a criminal, and rejected by His friends and followers, Jesus remembered the Father’s love for others.

In this Holy Week, I pray that I would not lose sight of God’s Amazing Love for us. When we were His enemies– fallen, ruined by Sin–“junk”, Jesus was willing to reach out, to walk with the marginalized and sick, and more than all that, to DIE in order to make us joint heirs and give us the glories of Eternal Life with Him! And when Jesus was taken down off the cross– broken, dead, and “worthless”, God raised Him to Life and gave Him a “Name that is above all names” (Philippians 2).

We pray to a God who cherishes our very thoughts–a God who delights to hear from us! What a powerful thought. What an Amazing Love!

The Chimp and the Typewriter

I’m really not sure at all how this post relates to prayer, but it is a subject that’s been stewing in my brain for awhile, so I thought I would “write out” my thoughts.

I have long been disgusted with a certain argument used by those who discount Creation (by a supreme God with intelligent design and purpose as put forth in Scripture). Their claim of a universe that is the result of a series of random accidents is compared to a chimpanzee with a typewriter. Supposedly, given enough time, there is a possibility that the chimp could “randomly” type a masterpiece– a Shakespearean play or the text of the New Testament.. It is a very tiny probability, but, the argument goes, enough of a probability to suggest that the universe came about in a similarly unexpectedly random way. The proponents of this argument always seem to leave their chimp typing away, convinced that their argument is unassailable– that they can drop the mic, walk off stage to the thunderous applause of their peers, and sit smugly back while creationists pick up their jaw from the floor and stammer in defeat. (To further explore how this analogy works, see https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/12/10/249726951/the-infinite-monkey-theorem-comes-to-life)

I’m flabbergasted that this argument still gets any credence. It is laughable in its illogical assumptions and disregard for the complexity and wonder of Creation. AND it refutes its own basic assumption– that of randomness. Let me break it down:

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  • First their example is NOT random at all. And, once true randomness is introduced, the idiocy of the argument is obvious. What if we replace the chimpanzee with any other random animal? A hedgehog. A butterfly. A hippopotamus. A fish. What is the probability of any of THEM typing a masterpiece? None. The theory hangs on the mathematical principle of probability theory, but probability rests, not on random unknowns, but on specific factors and specified outcomes, i.e. an agent (such as a chimpanzee) with the ability to use a specific type of tool (such as a keyboard) to produce a certain outcome (such as a specific phrase or work of literature).
  • The same thing applies if we replace the typewriter. Oh, modern arguments have replaced the typewriter with a computer keyboard– in fact computer models have even been tasked with trying to figure up the most likely probability percentage of this “random” event. But what if we take away the keyboard filled with letters, and give the chimp a crayon of a ball point pen. What chance then of the simian “creating” a work of fiction or a sacred book? As soon as it becomes apparent that the “probability” of such random factors producing a specific outcome is not just tiny, but non-existent, the analogy becomes ludicrous.
  • Finally, we don’t have random literature. Generally, we have “Hamlet.” But barring that, we have “random” works by Shakespeare, or Milton, or the King James Bible. The chimpanzee doesn’t have an Arabic keyboard. It never seems to type out classic works in Chinese literature (though it “could” in theory, I suppose). What we have is a very specific example of a single creative act that “might” statistically be “produced” (see the discussion on this below) given an infinite amount of time. And it is a visual image that our brains are tricked into thinking of as a “possible” outcome of random chance.
  • But it is not just the absence of true randomness, but the absence of reality that distresses me. The proponents of this argument not only want us to assume that the chimpanzee CAN type out a masterpiece, but that it WILL type out a masterpiece. On what theoretical plane is it logical to assume that the average (or even above-average) chimpanzee will spend any length of time pounding away at a keyboard to produce literature? To what purpose? Why should it? Or that the typewriter will never “jam” or run out of ribbon; or that a word processor will never experience a “glitch” or lose power, or have enough memory to store all the “failed” attempts. Will “auto correct” kick in? At what point does reality suggest that this “random” event is not only not probable, but not logical? As one wit suggested, “A million chimps at a million typewriters will never write Hamlet, but they will break the typewriters and fling their poop.”(I found this on the internet– I have no attribution for the “quote” as it was simply included with an image of a chimp at the typewriter.)
  • And how long will this take? You can’t realistically have a single, immortal chimpanzee in this scenario. You need infinite generations of chimps (supplied with typewriters) with nothing better to do than prove an illogical “random” theory. How many humans will it take to “witness” this process? How do they determine that the outcome has been reached successfully? And they all–chimps, machinery, witnesses– have to work toward this single goal; NOT of their own free will (and not “randomly”), but enslaved to a very human need to suggest what can only be theorized.
  • This brings me to another failing of the argument. One of the reasons we still use the word “theory” when speaking of Evolution or the “Big Bang” is that they can be theorized, but never demonstrated. No one can demonstrate how a universe can be formed out of nothing, because the universe and all its materials are already here. The most one could ever do is “re-create” or “simulate” what happened “In the beginning.” Similarly, the theoretical chimpanzee (or aardvark, or whatever) will never “create” Hamlet or the book of Matthew, or Paradise Lost. At most, it might create a reproduction–by “accident” rather than earnest intent–of an already existing masterpiece. This is not Creation. It is not even imitation, in the way that “West Side Story” re-creates “Romeo and Juliet” or a new translation of St. Matthew “modernizes” the King James Version of the same gospel. If a chimpanzee successfully photocopies a page of Shakespeare, we would never suggest that it was a literary “creation.”
  • And this brings me to my last baffling observation– that the Creation of the Universe would be compared to the creation of a single artistic product, and that Art and Literature would be dismissed as mere random “occurrences,” the likes of which any monkey could produce.
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The Apostle Paul warned of this kind of futile thinking in his letter to the Romans:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:18-25 (NIV)

The world is filled with awesome and majestic reminders of God’s Power, His Character, His Faithfulness, His Wonder, and His Glory. God created the chimpanzee– and the kangaroo, the pineapple, the ostrich, the Milky Way, and YOU! And He created individuals with the creative capacity to invent typewriters, write sonnets, paint murals, and compose sonatas. He is a God of infinite variety, and amazing consistency. Many of those who study the origins of life on Earth– really study it, rather than trying to “figure it out,” have concluded that the factors necessary to “create” and sustain life– and more amazingly, to sustain the life we see around us in its beauty, power, and complexity–require such exquisite precision and timing that the “probability” of life on Earth (and the probability of “Earth” itself) without a supreme and purposeful Creator is beyond human calculation– and even beyond computer calculation!

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So I guess this does bring me back to prayer– We don’t pray to a theoretical “god,” but the God of Creation, and Wonder, and Majesty! Let’s remember to Praise Him today!

Christmas Prayer

Father, this Christmas, I want to

Confess that I have not really comprehended what Christmas really means. There are times throughout this year when I have not made “room in the inn;” I have not welcomed Christ in the “least of these.” I have not followed the star, or listened to the message of the angels. I have not come to the manger with gifts. I have been like the people of Bethlehem– asleep and unaware of the miracles taking place under my nose. I have not acknowledged that you are

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Here. Not just that you came. Not just that you lived, and died, and rose again. But that you are present with me–Now! Every moment! Forever. Here. Not just beside me, but indwelling…living in me and working through me, flawed and cracked vessel that I am. Living in and working through other ordinary people You send into my life (as You send me into theirs).

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Righteous Redeemer, help me to understand better Your Wisdom, Your Power, Your Glory, and Your Holiness. You did not come to rescue us from some failed plan or cosmic mistake. You are altogether perfect in Your plan of Salvation. Even when I cannot understand Your ways, they are higher and better than anything I can imagine. And Christmas, with all its wonder and glory and contradiction was never a surprise to YOU. It wasn’t Plan B. It was timed down to the minute, scripted to the very last detail, and part of the eternal plan of Salvation.

Inspire me again with the wonder of Your Mercy and Grace. Help me to experience the Joy of the Shepherds, the Awe of the Magi, and the Hush of Heaven as You left Your throne to become a little lower than the angels who shouted Your Glory into the darkness.

Send me, as you sent the Shepherds, to make known Your wonders, as you sent the Angels to tell of Your Good News of Great Joy, and as you sent Your Son into the world to make reconciliation. Strengthen me as an instrument of Your Grace, as a Witness of Your Might, and as an Ambassador of Your Love.

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Transform my thinking. Build my Trust in You, that I would spend less time fretting about my daily needs and the unforeseen circumstances of my days, and more time praising You for what you have done, and will do, and are doing. Help me to embrace Your

Might, Your Majesty, and Your mystery. That the same voice that spoke galaxies into being and the same right arm that raised up empires was wrapped up in rags and laid in a Manger, meek and tiny. That Your glory was hidden in a cattle stall in a quiet village of a conquered nation. That Your plan to bring us life involved Your own painful death at the hands of people You had raised up to power That all of Eternity could be changed in a single instant, even as the Earth slept.

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Accept my adoration, incomplete and uncomprehending as it is. And equip me to Act in ways that bring You Glory and Honor. Advance Your Kingdom, and Thank You for making it possible to be reconciled to You.

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Sovereign Savior and Gracious Shepherd, let Christmas be born in me anew this season. Let me grow in Faith and Obedience. Let me shine like that first star– drawing others to worship You.

Amen.

Lullabies and Hallelujahs

During this season of the year, we hear a lot of “Christmas” music. Much of it is secular music–Santa Claus and magical snowmen, gifts and parties, and the Holiday “blues.” But much of it is related to the real reason for Christmas: the birth of Our Lord. And the number of songs, hymns, cantatas and symphonies related to Christ’s birth is staggering! Popular secular singers record “their” versions of favorite hymns; choirs and orchestras present new songs and ancient melodies. Many of the songs fall into two distinct categories, however. There are quiet lullabies–peaceful and meditative, focused on the infant in the manger; and there are Hallelujahs– joyful and majestic, focused on the wonder of God coming to earth.

I don’t know if there were actually lullabies OR Hallelujahs on that first Christmas. The Bible mentions the visit of the angels, but they were “praising God and SAYING, ‘Glory to God in the Highest..'” We often assume that their praise included singing, but the Bible isn’t specific. But it is interesting to look at the contrast of the quietness of the manger and the Glory of the angel hosts, and hear the contrast in the hymns we raise at this time of year.

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Lullabies, and quiet songs, like “Silent Night,” or “Away in a Manger” call our minds and hearts to the humility of the Christ child. Babies are cute and engaging. And they are not “silent.” But they do not command authority and majesty. Babies cry out for help. They are needy in a way that God is NOT. And yet…God came in the form of a helpless baby. The God who created the galaxies needed someone to feed and change Him; to carry Him from place to place and rock Him to sleep. “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” reminds us that He came to a cattle shed in a small town, rather than to a palace in the seat of power.

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Hallelujahs, like “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” remind us that this was no ordinary child. And yet…the angels did not appear IN the manger or even in the little Town of Bethlehem. The Angels were compelled to sing their praises, not to the learned priests, or the courts of power, but to dumb-founded shepherds on a cold hillside. What an explosive visitation! Their praises (whether shouted or sung) shattered the quiet and the darkness. Like a sudden fireworks display, the Glory of God’s servants split the night.

God enters our hearts– sometimes quietly, like the cooing of an infant; sometimes dramatically, like a chorus of angels. God is at work– sometimes in humble moments and ordinary gestures; sometimes in glorious flashes of insight and inexplicable miracles. And this season, our prayers will rise up– sometimes like the humble cries of a newborn baby; sometimes like the soaring songs of angel hosts– prayers of need; prayers of thanksgiving; prayers of awe-struck worship; prayers of simple confession of our own unworthiness, and of God’s sufficiency and everlasting Love. Peace and Glory; lullabies and Hallelujahs; simplicity and majesty– all wrapped up on a manger of hay on one Holy Night.

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Christmas is about both the lullabies and the Hallelujahs; the simple light of Truth and the glorious radiance of God’s Holiness.

…And the Word WAS God!

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5; 14

Emmanuel– God WITH us. The Baby Jesus in the manger is the same Jesus on the Cross; the same Jesus who was involved in the Creation of the universe.

We love seeing the Baby Jesus in the manger. We like the idea of Jesus, the good teacher and friend. We even bow our heads to honor the Jesus of the cross. We pray to Jesus, acknowledging that He is the God-Man who came to save us from Sin. But sometimes, we get so comfortable seeing Jesus lying peacefully in the manger or serenely enduring the pain of the Cross, that we ignore His absolute Holiness and Power.

Jesus was fully human– he ate, slept, cried, felt cold, and felt pain. But He is also God– fully Divine; fully Sovereign. He doesn’t force us to worship Him– not now, anyway. Someday, though, every knee will bow, and every tongue compelled to confess that Jesus is the Ultimate Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Philippians 2:10-11). Larger than life; more permanent than history; eternally Sovereign.

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We pray to a God who is so awesome and glorious that no person can see His face and live. And yet, we pray to a God who so loved mankind that He came and walked among us, lived among us, and died among us. We look at Baby Jesus in the manger– we see the face of God. And when we look at our neighbors and friends, we look at those made in the image of God– we see those beloved of God; those Jesus came to save.

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This is not new theology. This is basic Christianity. But sometimes, in the bustle of the “Season, ” we forget the wonder and the miracle that is the very reason for it all. God is NOT distant. He is not looking for reasons to reject or condemn us. He reaches out to us EXACTLY like a baby reaches out– seeking to be held close. He is as close as the person sitting next to you at the dinner table, or sharing a seat on the bus. GOD! Not a theology; not a list of do’s and don’t’s. Not an esoteric idea. A Presence; a living Christmas Present! An eternal Gift of Love! One with arms and legs; a twinkling eye and infectious smile.

In this season of Advent and Christmas, may we let the Glory of God fill us with awe and wonder. And may we let the Love of God fill us with hope and joy. May our prayers be like the sweet singing of the Angels on that Holy Night so long ago. “Glory to God in the Highest! And, on earth, Peace among those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).

Prayer on a Dreary Day

Father,,
Today is a dreary day.
It is not warm or sunny; it is not filled with joy or peace.
The house is a mess.
I’m not even dressed.
I feel emptied and drained.

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And yet…

Even though I can’t see
Your glory in my surroundings,
I know You can see
The glory of eternity.
You see the brighter days ahead.
You are already there,
Celebrating.

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You have not journeyed here to
Listen to my prayer…
Because You have always been here
Right beside me.
You are not put off by my
Dirt or disheveled appearance;
You are not unaware of my sadness–
You know my thoughts before I think them!
You know my emotions better than I know myself!

Today is a dreary day,
But it is just a speck in the fullness of
Your Eternal Light.
Shine into my darkness
Dispel the dreariness around me.
Help me to reflect, not the clouds,
But the Son!

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Thank you, Lord.
Even on a dreary day,
In Your presence, there is fullness of Joy–
Not the giddiness of a sunny springtime,
But the glow of a hearth-fire,
Sustaining me.

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So my praise today may not explode
In bright colors and exclamations.
But it will be a steady and steadying
Ember–warm enough to survive
Ready for You to
Ignite tomorrow’s fresh flame!

Holy, Majestic, Awesome God!

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message) (emphasis added)
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I think one of the hallmarks of a Christian is not knowledge about God, but personal experience of God. And one of the signs of such experience is a reverent wonder– an overwhelming AWE– of God. Of who He is and how He works, what He has done, and what He has promised to do. As we grow in faith, good character, understanding, discipline, and patience, we are ready to absorb the absolute WONDER of this majestic, mighty, amazing God we serve. We revel in our own personal experience of Salvation, but we also begin to see the magnitude of God’s Grace, His Power, His Wisdom and His Holiness.

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Many of the ancient prophets tried to describe their encounters with God’s presence. Daniel and the Apostle John were paralyzed and prostrate when visited by angels. Paul was blinded by the light. Moses’ face had to be covered after being in God’s presence. because his face was so radiant. Isaiah was struck dumb. The list goes on… We may not experience the presence of angels or receive prophecies like they did, but we can experience a sense of ecstasy in contemplating our marvelous Lord and Savior.

One prophet who had such an experience was Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived in perilous and evil times. His nation was in rebellion toward God’s law, and its citizens, from the leaders and priests to the farmers and townspeople, were paying lip-service to God while prostrating themselves to foreign gods and foreign countries. The leaders lived in splendor, while many of their own people starved, or were sold into slavery. Habakkuk, in frustration, prayed to God, pleading for relief from evil, and judgment for the righteous. He had faith, was of good character, understood the law, had developed discipline, and had a passionate patience– but his patience was mixed with frustration. “How long must I wait to see justice and reform?” “How long will my people keep seeking help from wicked foreigners?” “When will we be free of oppression?”

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Habakkuk was not just whining. He had a heart for his own people, and wanted to see what God would do. God’s answer was not what Habakkuk was expecting. God promised justice and redemption– but only after invasion, more oppression, and exile! God was sending a vast and merciless army to crush not only His own people, but all the wicked nations in whom they had placed their trust. God was going to “pull the rug out” from under the entire region. But then, He would punish the invaders, wiping out their power and restoring His people to their own land.

What was Habakkuk’s reaction to such news? At first, he was stunned; then confused. But in a very short time, his horror turned to worship. He resolved to stand at his watch; to station himself on the ramparts to see God at work. And as he waited, his perspective changed. God DID see the injustice and wickedness; the violence, lies, and betrayal. God had a plan– a plan so much grander and glorious in scope– a plan that had been in place from long before Habakkuk was born; long before his complaint. It was a plan that would not leave wickedness unpunished, but would bring justice in its proper time, and allow for redemption, restoration and renewal.

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Habakkuk’s prayer (chapter 3) is a marvel of praise and worship:
“His glory covered the heavens, and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand where his power was hidden…” (v. 3b-4)
“You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear… (v.9b-11)
“I heard and my heart pounded; my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. 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.” (v. 16-19a NIV)

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How often does my heart pound and my lips quiver as I contemplate our Awesome God? How often am I joyful in God my Savior– especially in the midst of expected hardship and continuing evil around me? How often do I limit my sight to what is immediately before my eyes, instead of looking up at the one who holds every moment of the past and future; who controls the vastness of millions of galaxies, yet also sees each individual hair on 7 billions human heads, knows every grain of sand in the desert, and every drop of water in all the oceans; who tracks every molecule in the universe, but knows me by name?!

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May today be a day filled with reverent wonder, as we consider the Holy, Majestic, and Awesome God who has the power to redeem, inspire, and strengthen us for whatever lies ahead.

Looking at the Negative

(Please note: This is a re-post from a couple of years ago..)

Growing up in the age before digital cameras, I remember waiting for photos to be developed from a roll of film. We would drop off a roll at the pharmacy or photo shop, and pick up a package containing the prints and several strips of negatives from the original roll of film.

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I was fascinated by these negatives–images with the exact opposite of the prints– dark was light, light was dark, and everything seemed topsy-turvy. Sometimes things seemed creepy and even somewhat sinister–people with white hair and white pupils shining out of dark eyes; icy trees against a dark sky.

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Of course, the negatives were not the prints, nor were they intended to be the finished product. The negatives were included so that new prints could be made at a later time. We didn’t put the negatives in our photo album; we hid them away in a dark place, out of sight and far from the light. Most of them eventually got ruined or degraded over time, while the photos they produced were preserved and cherished.

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Life holds a lot of “negatives”– negative experiences, negative emotions, negative thoughts, bad memories, scars–we all have them. But we are given the opportunity to produce something positive out of even the most negative of circumstances. It’s what God does– His light shines in the darkness and changes our view.

But we need to be exposed to the truth, and developed by faith, just like film. And we need to come back into the light, not as a negative, but as a faithful image of what (and who) God intends us to be.

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The world is full of negatives– distorted images and situations caused by exposure to sin, pain, grief, anger, bitterness, and hatred. We can dwell on such images, and fill our days staring at the negatives, never seeing the reality of what God has done all around us. Or we can allow God to develop the negatives in our life and create albums of God’s Grace–filling our eyes and minds with the truth and beauty that comes only from our Loving Father.

Philippians 4:6-8 NIV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (taken from bible.com)

Someday, God will finish destroying all the “negatives” in this fallen world, and reveal His full Glory. What a sight that will be!

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Fixing the Snarls

A few years ago, I got really ambitious and decided I would take up crocheting. My grandmother taught me the basics many years ago, and I thought I would be able to pick it back up and make delightful scarves and mittens and maybe even afghans… Except, when I started a scarf, I ended up with a nice start attached to a horribly snarled up ball of yarn. No problem. I would simply work at the snarl until it melted away, and continue with my scarf. Except it didn’t melt away. I was able to “move” the snarl a foot or so down from where it was, but I couldn’t work it all the way out.

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I struggled with that snarl far longer than I should have, and eventually gave up the project and moved on to making candles (another story for another time). But I learned a painful lesson. I would love to say that I prayed about the snarl and God unraveled it for me, but that didn’t happen. I prayed– yes; but God allowed me to continue in my stubbornness and self-confidence to do battle with a few yards of green yarn for days, when I could have been doing more productive things.

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I have a great need to try to “fix” things– I think most of us do at some level. We live in a broken world, and we know that there are things that are “snarled” all around us–relationships, situations, circumstances–that need fixing. And God has given us opportunities to do good works that can make the world around us better. But it is not our job to “fix” the brokenness in the world. Only God can really “fix” it–even though He may give us work to do along the way.

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And that brings me back to prayer. No, God didn’t “fix” the snarl in my yarn. And He didn’t “fix” my stubborn attitude or my willingness to finish the project another way or ask for help from someone else. God isn’t interested in making our lives (or our projects) easier for us by removing our problems. And God isn’t impressed by our stubborn efforts to “fix” the situations in our lives. God’s ways are not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8-9; and check out https://blackaby.org/gods-ways-are-not-our-ways/.

So many times, we think of prayer as a last resort, as a crutch to fall back on when our efforts seem to be failing, or when we think a situation is “too big” for us to handle on our own. Even in the things of Christ, we tend to plan first, and pray later. Prayer becomes our Plan B. But what if, in the grand scale, prayer was always our Plan A? What if we started the morning, not looking at our planners and calendars, but listening for God’s direction? Even if it meant scrapping our own plans and leaving the “snarls” to God? What if, as our churches planned for programming and outreach, we resolved to do nothing until we had prayed for a month about our goals for the coming year? What if our churches had more people coming to prayer meetings than coming to Family Game Nights or Teen Overnight Parties? In my own life, what if I spent less time writing in my prayer journal than asking God to inhabit my prayers?

In the book of 1 Samuel, King Saul undertook a mission for God– God had chosen him to be King over all Israel, and to lead the nation against the wicked peoples in their midst. Saul led his warriors in battle, and even had success, but God rejected Saul because of his disobedience. Saul wanted victory to confirm his status as a warrior and a king. He listened to God’s instructions– superficially. He even insisted that he had followed God’s instructions– after all, he defeated the enemy! But he didn’t do it God’s way or for God’s glory. God gave him victory in many battles, but Saul was impatient, imprudent, and impudent. Saul ended his reign in shameful defeat because he wanted to “fix the snarls”– his way.

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I’m not saying that my prayer journal is wrong, or that churches shouldn’t do programming– not at all. But it is something to think about, before the next yarn snarl comes along… Am I busy trying to “fix” a situation that I can’t (or shouldn’t) fix, when I should be watching for God’s next assignment? Am I trying to win a battle to prove myself worthy, or am I letting God set the terms and take the Glory that is rightfully His? Am I busy asking God to unsnarl yarn, when He wants to move mountains?

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