Content, But Not Complacent

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 

1 Timothy 6:3-12 (NASB)
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“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6) We are entering a season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it can be a wonderful time to count one’s blessings and give praise with a humble and thankful heart. But it can also be a season of discontent, envy, overspending, and even depression. Many people are restless. They want “more”– more stuff, more respect, more power, more popularity, better health, a bigger house, trendier clothes…the list can be endless. Advertisers work hard to stir up this kind of discontent in the hope that people will buy their products. Politicians stir up discontent and fear to get more votes. Even religious leaders can stir up discontent in the hope of gaining influence, respect, and money.

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God will not stir up discontent in our hearts. Instead, He wants us to learn to be content and grateful for the blessings we already have, and to trust Him for the things we both need and desire. He will see to it that we get what we need to live a Godly life, even if it seems meager compared to others who boast of their circumstances. Those who trust in their wealth or power will find it is never “enough.” Discontent breeds more discontent– envy gives rise to anger and bitterness. Greed gives way to dishonesty and violence. It is the enemy of Godliness and Humility. It is the enemy of the Christian Walk.

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But there is another danger to the Christian. We should desire to develop a spirit of contentment, but we must be careful not to let contentment become complacency. The Apostle Paul does not stop in his message to Timothy, but reminds him to both “flee” the temptation of greed and discontent, and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Contentment is not an excuse for complacency. We are to “fight the good fight of Faith.” We are to be content with what we have, but not complacent about where we stand or how we live.

Discontent says– “I don’t have enough. I need more! (Even if I must take it by force or manipulation)”. Complacency says–” I have everything I need. I am an island of self-sufficiency. I don’t need anything (including God!) Both attitudes are conceited and fail to acknowledge God’s provision and His Sovereignty. The discontented, greedy person will be at war with God’s laws. The complacent person may not be fighting against God’s laws, but s/he will ignore God’s will, and refuse to stand up for justice or mercy. The complacent person is complicit in evil, even when they are not the ones doing it. The complacent Christian is ungrateful, and has only half-hearted praise for the Author of the blessings they enjoy.

There are many “Christians” in both categories. Many who claim to follow Christ, but are really following what they think will bring them power, wealth, health, or popularity. Many are being lulled into complacency by their blessings and comfortable circumstances. Both groups have lost their focus. God is to be the center of our lives– not our own comfort or our own pursuit of it.

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This season, may we be content, humble, and willing to give God the Thanks, Praise, and Worship He deserves. And may we not become complacent about doing good, standing firm in the Faith, and helping others.

The Blessings of a Faithful Grandmother

Yesterday, my wonderful maternal grandmother would have celebrated her 110th earthly birthday. I have so many happy memories of times spent with her– of shared laughter and tears, walking barefoot through many yards and gardens, “overnights,” looking through her button tin, or her old jewelry box, helping her make homemade egg noodles, or cherry pie… But more than all these, I remember the feelings of peace, joy, and unconditional love whenever she was near.

My Grandmother, Beulah B.

Gram was one of the wisest persons I ever knew. She was patient and kind with everyone. I cannot remember ever hearing her say a spiteful or sarcastic word. She had a quiet sense of humor, and made everyone feel welcome and valuable. She was generous– not just with gifts, but with time and attention, especially for children. She was a hard worker, but she never seemed to look frenzied or “overworked.”

She and my grandfather were married for almost 63 years. She lived with him through many difficult times– during the Great Depression, there were many times when they could not be sure where they would live or what they would eat. Many nights were spent sleeping in spare rooms with family members. Grandad went to war in 1942, and Gram “held down the home front”– taking care of two little girls, and working the night shift as a riveter, while living with her parents. Things were better financially after the war, but Gram kept working– this time as a secretary. She and Grandad still moved around a lot–rented homes, apartments, mobile homes–each time making it look and feel better than it had ever been, or ever would be again. Gram planted flowers everywhere; Grandad collected animals. At the time of her death, Gram and Grandad were living in a rented house– the very house where Gram had been born 82 years earlier!

Gram’s given name was Beulah, named for her paternal grandmother. Her name means “married.” And Gram lived up to her name, and all it suggests. She was faithful, fruitful, and a wonderful companion and champion in her marriage. When she died, my grandfather was lost without her. We nearly lost him that very day. He only lived another four months after she passed.

If I had to choose a word to describe Gram, above all others, it would be faithful. She was faithful in everything she did– faithful to her marriage, faithful to her children and extended family, faithful at work, and faithful to God. Gram’s Bible was worn, and old, but she lived out its pages every day. Her trust in God was absolute– and it had been tested through all the hard times she had experienced. She KNEW she could trust in God’s provision and timing, because she had experienced it first hand. She did not make a fuss about her deep faith, nor did she ever deny the source of her peace and strength. Her life was not easy, but it was bountiful!

Today, as I reflect on her legacy, I am so grateful for her quiet example in my own life, and in the lives of others. I pray that I may leave such an impression before I pass on– that someone will be inspired to a lasting faith and find joy in their life’s journey because I have been faithful. Below is one of her favorite hymns: (I especially enjoy the piano in this clip, because it is close to how my Gram would have played it!)

Blessed Are the Poor In Spirit

I want to spend some time this month exploring the Beatitudes and how they relate to our prayer life. Today I want to look at Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

How do I approach God’s throne of Grace? Do I come with a list of what I want, and what I’ve accomplished for God? Do I come reluctantly, grudgingly, holding back some part of who I am or who I have been? Do I come flaunting my self-righteousness? Or do I come empty of all but my desire to be in the Presence of my Maker?

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Many people have interpreted (and misinterpreted) this phrase. Jesus does not insist that we be financially destitute, or drained of all enthusiasm or emotion. But He does require that we come recognizing our need of Him. We may not be physically needy in the moment– we may be well-fed, comfortable, or even wealthy by human standards. But we are all in need of God’s presence and His provision. On my own, I may believe that I have earned all that I seem to possess, but I cannot supply the air that I breathe, or guarantee that my health will remain perfect, or that I will be able to keep what I think I own, or force others to accept or respect me. “Man supposes, but God disposes” is an old phrase, but an accurate one.

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When I approach God in prayer, no matter how rich or poor I may seem, I am dependent on God for everything. And this is true for every one of us. So I don’t approach God as someone “needier” or “less needy” than my neighbor. And I don’t approach God with any power to bargain or demand, or even to request– except that God has invited me and sought me out in His Love and Mercy!

And this is the rest of the Beatitude– “for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” God has opened up Heaven and invited me to walk with Him, to learn from Him, to receive His blessings, and to live with Him throughout eternity. His riches! His Glory! His Presence! Every time I pray, I trade my poverty for God’s bounty. I trade my confession for His forgiveness. I trade my helplessness for His Wisdom and Power to triumph over adversity and confusion, grief and doubt, sickness and lack.

It is when I come to Christ believing that I possess or control all that I suppose to be “mine,” that I lose the Blessing of His sufficiency and His perfection.

“Thank you, God of Mercy, and Ruler of All, for the privilege of coming to you. I come empty and spent–show me where I am holding on to something less than You, or trying to claim Your wealth as my own. Teach me to rest in the sufficiency of Your kingdom, even as I continue to serve you here on earth.”

A Few Thoughts About Manna

I’ve already posted recently about Ash Wednesday (see the post from Feb. 15), so it may seem strange on a day of fasting and ashes to be writing about food. And manna doesn’t seem to have much of a connection to prayer– bear with me…

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  • Manna was, quite literally, “daily bread.” God sent manna each day for the children of Israel as they wandered and camped in the wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land. It appeared overnight, much like dew, and evaporated in the heat of the day. Yet the small “grains” could be gathered and made into nourishment for the thousands of Israelites who had no other source of bread. Manna and the bread made from it were only good for a day (except on Friday, when twice as much would fall so no work needed to be done on the Sabbath). God provides for our needs daily– we don’t have to worry and fret. Jesus returned to this theme often, including the Sermon on the Mount and The Lord’s Prayer.
  • Manna was uniquely suited for the Israelites in their situation. Manna did not require time to grow, harvest, or prepare. It did not require storage space, as it was collected and used up daily. It did not require yeast, salt, or sugar to be added to it–God designed it to be simple, sufficient, sustaining, and even sweet!
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  • Manna was provided even after the Israelites complained and accused Moses (and God!) of leading them into the wilderness to die. God will not withhold punishment (see what happened in Numbers 11 when the Israelites complained about the manna!), but He will provide for our needs out of His love for us, not as a condition of our righteous behavior. All the people had access to manna, even those who complained or were defiant. If someone went hungry, it was not because God refused to provide– but because they chose not to avail themselves of His gift, or because they refused to accept the nature of the gift.
  • Manna was consistent. God didn’t send manna one week and raisins the next; God is faithful and unchanging–the manna wasn’t just a nutritional provision, it was a reflection of God’s nature! God gives good gifts; it is our selfish nature that often takes His goodness for granted, and asks for what we do not need.
  • Once the Israelites reached the Promised Land, the manna stopped. God’s gifts meet our needs– in His way, and in His time. God does not give gifts blindly or absent-mindedly. God knew exactly how much manna to send each day, and exactly when the manna would no longer be needed. He was watching closely the whole time– every step of the journey.
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So today, whether or not you are fasting, you can rejoice in the knowledge that God has seen every step of YOUR journey. He will provide for our every need, including the need for forgiveness, courage, physical nourishment, and spiritual growth. All we need to do is look for it, gather it, and use it!

About My Refrigerator

I am very thankful for my refrigerator. It’s used…we picked it up at a garage sale a couple of years ago. It still works well, except for the ice maker and water dispenser. But it has plenty of space, and it keeps things cold and/or frozen, as needed. Right now, we have some milk and plenty of eggs, cheese, and some leftovers, a jug of water getting chilled, some celery, and some fish thawing out for dinner later this week. There are also some random jars of condiments– catsup, mustard, mayonnaise, horseradish sauce, some diced garlic, a few pickles, and some jam. There are things that probably wouldn’t need to be refrigerated, but there they sit, nice and cold, ready if we need them. There are even a few leftovers that need to be taken out of the fridge and thrown out. Even the refrigerator can only preserve food for so long. There is a freezer, as well. It contains meat and veggies, and some blueberries I froze from earlier this summer. It is nearly full, and that’s another thing to be thankful for.

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been going through notes left by my great-grandmother. She was born before people had such luxuries. She started her married life with a cellar. Later, she had an icebox. Before she died, they had gotten an electric refrigerator, but it didn’t look much like mine. It was small, and had a small freezer, but it had to be defrosted regularly, and it didn’t have special drawers for vegetables or meat. Reading about her life has made me conscious of how easy my life is in comparison. I’m grateful for modern appliances, and conveniences– even as I often take them for granted. The stove, the microwave, the slow cooker (Crock Pot), the rice steamer, a food processor; they all save time and effort as I work in the kitchen. I still wash the dishes by hand, but even that is made easier with non-stick fry pans and plenty of hot water from the tap. My great-grandmother had to pump her water from the well and heat it over the fire!

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I’m not only thankful for what is IN my refrigerator, though. I am thankful for what’s ON it. I have dozens of magnets– some homemade, others souvenirs from various travels– here in Michigan, out West in Washington and Oregon, from the Dominican Republic, etc.. And each magnet holds something precious– photos of my grandkids, of nieces and nephews, of families serving on the mission field; drawings, Bible verses, business cards from favorite restaurants, memo pads, and inspirational quotes. It’s almost impossible to find the original surface of the fridge under all those important reminders! This is deliberate. The Bible tells us to keep His word in our hearts– to memorize it, and talk about it daily with our family.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
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It’s “just” a refrigerator. But it is also a place of worship and thanksgiving and remembrance. Every time I open the door, I can be reminded of God’s power, love, and mercy; how much God has done for our family, and how we’ve been blessed. I am reminded of dear people, and reminded to lift them up in prayer. I am convicted of my need to be a better steward of the food and other resources we have been given. And I fill its shelves and drawers with love in the form of good food to share with my husband, and with our friends and neighbors. That refrigerator has been the repository of pies and deviled eggs, of fruit salads and 7-layer salads, of barbecued chicken and leftover corn pudding, and a hundred other dishes meant for family meals, potlucks, and simple dinners with my husband. At times, the shelves have been a little bare, but never empty. God provides! He blesses! He sustains!

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God can speak through something as simple as a kitchen appliance. Sometimes, we just have to take a moment to look and listen.

We the People

Yesterday and today mark two important milestones in North America. September 16 is Mexican Independence Day, and September 17 is Constitution Day in the United States. On these days, people in our two countries celebrate some of the great things that can be accomplished by “we the people.” The founders of our nations were not perfect, but they fought and worked and came together to make “a more perfect union,” and a brighter future for their citizens.

All around the world, governments are instituted to protect the rights and lives of people– to protect them from danger, to allow them to interact in peace and safety, and to provide for “the general welfare” of all. But governments– even the best–are run by fallible people.

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The Bible tells a long and complex story of the ancient nation of Israel. Tracing its origins to a single patriarch (Abraham), the family grew to be a powerful nation, ruled first by priests and judges, and then by a series of kings. The nation split into two distinct countries, before being scattered and sent into exile. The story of the nation is chronicled (literally) in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. In the books of the prophets, the same message comes from God again and again–Israel and Judah have both fallen into the same idolatry and corruption that doomed the nations they had conquered in former times. Instead of seeking justice for all the people, and providing order and protection, the leaders had become drunkards, liars, thieves, and murderers. They betrayed their allies, made foolish treaties, oppressed the poor and helpless, and celebrated their own cleverness. “We the People” had devolved into “us versus them.” Worship of God had been replaced by worship of a pantheon of foreign gods–worship that involved ritual prostitution and human sacrifice. Family members and fellow citizens were sold into slavery, robbed and beaten, used and abused, and slaughtered–without remorse or fear of retribution. God’s warnings were followed by His justice and punishment, and the demise of both nations, as well as punishment for their neighbors.

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Israel’s story, while very detailed, isn’t unique in history. Instead, it is a case study of what can happen when the people abandon unity and the rule of law for division and corruption. It is what happens when “who we are” becomes more important than “whose” we are; when “we” are more important than anyone else–even God. Israel and Judah continued to be religious right up to the point where they were dragged off to exile. They brought offerings and sacrifices, sang songs, prayed, and memorized scripture. Their leaders assured them that God would protect them and continue to let them prosper as their enemies marched up to the gates of Jerusalem. They had not abandoned the worship of God– they had just added idolatry to it. They worshipped their own prosperity, they worshipped gods and goddesses of the harvest, of war, of wealth, and wisdom. They still thought God was great– but not necessarily Sovereign.

Who or what are we worshipping today? What “new” and additional principles have we added to our own Constitution? To the laws of the land? To our way of being good citizens in our respective countries? To the eternal Word of God? When we hear the phrase, “We the People,” does it bring to mind people who look and live differently than us? Does it bring thoughts of justice and unity? Does it humble us?

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King David, the second, and one of the greatest of Israel’s kings wrote: “Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3 NKJV) “We the People,” by ourselves, will scatter and fall into destruction, like sheep without a shepherd.

More Evidence of Things Not Seen…

I have a story of a miracle that happened this past week.

This has been a difficult year for my husband and I. We had COVID back in February, and between hospital bills and David being unable to return to work for several weeks (and then being able to return only part-time), our finances have been rather tight. God has been faithful throughout, so it was a lack of faith that had me in a panic at the end of the week. Several of our monthly bills come due on the 10th each month, and we had only enough money in the bank to make a partial payment on one of them. David got paid on Friday (the 10th!), but that was still only enough to pay two bills. The one bill I was unable to pay was our health insurance premium– not a comfortable choice with our continuing health issues! We would be behind again, as I had paid last month’s bill a couple of days late. I had no idea when we would have enough money to make this month’s payment.

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So Friday, we got a statement from our health insurance/health share network. I was afraid to open it. It wasn’t our regular monthly statement, and it was on pink paper, which generally means a warning about a past due account, or worse, a cancellation notice. I was sick with worry– so much so that I put the statement aside, afraid to open it and read the worst.

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By Saturday night, I was frantic. I couldn’t sleep, wondering and worrying. I “knew” that God was aware of our situation, and that He was in control. I also knew that another big bill would come due on the 15th– with no money in sight. I cried, and pleaded with God to help me trust Him, and to meet our needs.

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At that point, I heard a clear prompting from the Holy Spirit to find the statement and open it. How could I say I trusted God when I was too scared to even look at the situation? I found the statement and took it into the kitchen to open it and look, without waking my husband. My hands shook as I unfolded the pink paper.

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And as I read, I cried– this time tears of joy and repentance as I read the short note and saw the attached check. Our insurance comes through a health share network. The members of the network pay a base fee each month and can send extra money to help other members in need. Their generosity meant that a check– more than enough to pay our own monthly premium and the other looming bill on the 15th– had arrived just when we most needed it. My fears were turned to praise in an instant as I SAW what God had done, instead of seeing what I dreaded.

God didn’t send us thousands of dollars to meet all our desires. But He sent, through the faithfulness of strangers, enough to meet our needs, and, more importantly, enough to remind us of His power to provide and His grace to meet our spiritual needs.

I know God answers prayer. I know it because the Bible says so. I know it because I have seen it in the lives of others. And I know it from personal experience. I know that, even if that pink notice had NOT been an unexpected miracle, that God was still present, waiting for me to trust His wisdom and timing.

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“Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen”..(Hebrews 11:1). This weekend, what I imagined I saw through the eyes of doubt was really evidence of God’s great faithfulness. I just needed to open the eyes of faith– and open the evidence that was right before me all along!

Remember..

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

When God Gives You Lemons…

There is a saying–“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” In other words, if your life circumstances are “sour,” you should look for ways to make your circumstances into something sweeter.

Often, it seems like God gives us lemons–even when we pray and do what we know is “right,” it seems like our circumstances get no better. In fact, sometimes, they get annoyingly, frustratingly worse. But God does not abandon us; He doesn’t sit back and laugh at our frustration, or leave us to flounder in chaos with no hope. Sometimes, our circumstances are opportunities for God to make lemonade.

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When God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, He did not lead them directly to the Promised Land. Instead, He led them through the wilderness and to the shores of the Red Sea. There, they were trapped by the Egyptian army, complete with horses and chariots and trained warriors. But God’s plans were bigger than the armies of Egypt, and bigger than the sea. God made a path of escape through the sea, and used the very same sea to drown the enemy!

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What a miracle! But it wasn’t long before the people began complaining about “lemons” from God–the complained about the food, the journey, the scenery, and their leader, Moses. Even when God did many more miracles– bread from Heaven, meat from the sky, water from the rock, divine intervention in battles– the Israelites were still complaining about all the “lemons” in their life, and longing to go back to Egypt and slavery!

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There are seasons in life when it seems like God is giving us lemons–a job loss, an unexpected illness, a wayward daughter, a house fire, civil unrest… Struggles and pain will come into our lives; we should not pretend otherwise, or seek to deny them when they come. And God does not expect us to “make lemonade” all on our own. But He may allow us to be squeezed a bit; He may send the lemons today, and sugar next Monday. He may not give us a fancy carafe and cute little teacups. But He will give us all we need to make lemonade if we are prepared for the task. And usually, He will give us more than enough to set up a lemonade stand and serve others!

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Several years ago (2005), I had the opportunity to visit a settlement of Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. Multiple mission groups had banded together to provide basic needs– shelter, basic medical services, toilets and showers, etc. Service teams from Canada and the U.S. had come in to build two-room houses and set up a small clinic and school. Donations had come in– clothing, bedding, toothbrushes… Thousands of Haitians had been displaced after a bad hurricane season and massive flooding, and this refugee camp was home to nearly 150 families. Even with the donations, there were shortages– there was running water, but it wasn’t potable. There was rice, but few vegetables and very little meat. Aspirin and antibiotics were rationed, and most of the children were thin, and sad, half-clothed in rags and bare-foot.

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In the midst of all this, there was a miraculous donation– of flip-flops! Literally thousands of pairs of flip-flops–brand new overruns: different sizes, but all the same colors and style–more than enough for every person to have a pair. God had given the people of this settlement a LOT of lemons. Shoes were well and good, but the people needed water… The shoes were distributed– there were even a few left over. But about a week later, it was observed that most of the people were still walking around bare-footed. What had happened to the donated flip-flops? Were the people ungrateful? Were they too proud to use the new shoes? Too fearful?

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Not at all! These amazing people trusted that God could help them turn lemons into lemonade. They loaded the flip-flops into large bags, carried them (bare-footed) on their backs into town (the nearest town was nearly 10 miles away, but it was on the coast and attracted many tourists), pooled what little money they had to rent a booth at the beach, and SOLD the flip-flops. The money they made from the sale of the flip-flops purchased five-gallon jugs of drinking water. The jugs were carried back from town and shared among the members of this growing community. As they continued to sell the donated flip-flops, they purchased other small items– packets of laundry detergent, fly swatters, plastic dishes and cups–and established a small colmado (local store) within their own community. When I was able to visit again a couple of years later, the refugee camp was a thriving community– many of the houses had been painted, and had gardens and picket fences, on which clothes were drying in the sun. And while some children were still running in bare feet, many others had shoes. Some of the shoes were ragged and some were mismatched, but the children were happy and healthy. In the middle of the community, there was a beautiful church. Inside, there was a woman sweeping and singing songs of praise.

I share this story because it both encourages me and shames me. In this season of “lemons”– COVID-19 and violent unrest in my country– I have a choice. I can complain like the children of Israel. I can pray for God to take away the lemons; I can beg for Him to send me lemonade. Or I can look around for opportunities to use what He has provided– graciously provided– and sing His praises as I make lemonade.

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God, grant me the eyes to see your provision amid whatever challenges I face today. THANK YOU for the lemons you have given me today, and, when I am squeezed, help me to become a sweet and refreshing reminder to others of YOUR Grace and Joy.

I Shall Not Want..

Of all the 150 Psalms in the Bible, Psalm 23 is the most well-known. It speaks of our Lord as a Shepherd who takes care of us, leading us to green pastures and calming our fears even in the valley of the shadow of death. But these four words in the very first verse, though comforting to many, have also been a source of grief to others. If the Lord is my Shepherd, I should have no reason to want. But what if I still have wants? Unanswered prayers? Struggles and trials and lacks?

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Let’s look at the phrase carefully. “I shall not want” is the wording in the King James (English) version of scripture. More modern translations render the phrase as “I lack nothing (NIV),” “I have what I need (CSB),” or other variations of “I shall not want.” Let’s stick with “I shall not want,” and look at it word by word.

This Psalm is very personal. The Lord is MY Shepherd– I shall not want. This is between me and my Shepherd. I may be tempted to look around and compare, to want what someone else has, even if I don’t need it; even if it isn’t good for me. But when I depend on my Shepherd to provide, I can trust that whatever comes, He knows what I want and what I need. He knows what is best. Therefore, I shall not worry or wonder or want.

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I am a former English teacher, so the verb “shall” interests me here. “Shall” and “will” are sometimes used interchangeably in English, but they are not exactly the same. “Shall” is not used much, but it indicates a future condition, or a condition that is ongoing into the future. It is not the active verb in this phrase, but rather the indicator of when that action (wanting, lacking, needing) will take place and how. The difference between “shall” and “will” in this case is not one of action, or time, but of volition. “Will” indicates a conscious decision– I “Will not want” means I will determine the action and outcome–without a Shepherd’s guidance or provision. I “Shall not want” means the outcome is determined by my Shepherd (in this case), not by my own volition or actions. There may be things I “will” still want– if I’m trying to go my own way and depend on my own wisdom and abilities, but that doesn’t change my condition–God has provided. God has given. God WILL continue to provide.

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“I shall NOT want”– I may desire something else; I may not have what others have; I may be poor or sick or sad. I may respond to my circumstances with grumbling, doubt, anger, envy, greed, or disbelief. But I can also respond with trust, gratitude, wonder and worship, knowing that God sees me, knows me, and cares for my always. God doesn’t force me to respond positively to hard times– the Psalmist doesn’t say, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall be grateful,” or “I shall never complain.” He doesn’t say, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall have whatever gives me pleasure or makes my life easier.” Rather, he gives us a true picture life– I will NOT have everything I wish for; I will NOT understand or take pleasure in all the circumstances of my life, but I shall NOT be abandoned, left alone and without help or resources, lacking any source of hope, joy, peace, or love.

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Finally, we come to the word “want.” In this context, it is meant to signify lack– I shall lack for nothing; I shall not be without (God who provides). And this is where many people struggle with the verse; with the Psalm; with the Shepherd Himself. We DO lack– many things. We lack money to pay the bills, we lack in our relationships, we lack perfect health, we lack patience…the list is endless. We “want” for many things. And we read Psalm 23, and it seems to mock us. If God is our Shepherd, why do we lose loved ones to disease? Why do we have to declare bankruptcy? Why did our spouse file for divorce? Why can’t we break that bad habit or addiction? Why do we see “good” people suffering? Doesn’t God see or care? God doesn’t give us easy answers. He doesn’t promise ease and comfort in this fallen world. But He is with us, not matter where, no matter what, no matter how we got there. And He promises to renew, restore, and redeem all that we lack in the present– perfectly and forever after.

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I shall not WANT. I shall suffer in the present– loss, pain, confusion, heartbreak, disappointment, failure. But I am not without– not without God’s presence in this world, and not without His promise of justice, mercy, hope, and love now and in the world to come. I am still a sheep–I have needs, I make unwise decisions, and I don’t have the ability to see or defend against the dangers of this world. But I have a Shepherd– all-knowing, all-powerful, and extravagant in Love and Grace. I will depend on Him. I will call out to Him. I will follow Him. And I shall not want!

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